Archbishop of Canterbury speaks out for Iranian refugees

By staff writers
September 21, 2009

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has called on the US and Iraqi governments to protect Iranian exiles living in Iraq from violence and abuse - citing the situation in a refugee camp in the Diyala province, north east of Baghdad.

Ekklesia understands that the Archbishop has informally asked contacts in the UK Foreign Office to do what they can to assist a resolution of the situation.

"The continuing situation in Camp Ashraf, together with the fact that the 36 people taken from the camp in July have not been released, constitutes a humanitarian and human rights issue of real magnitude and urgency," he declared.

Dr Williams, who is the spiritual head of the 77 million worldwide Anglican Communion, added: "There is a strong argument in terms of international law that the Ashraf residents are 'protected persons',”

Until January 2009, the camp’s 3,500 resident were under the protection of the US military. However, six months after the Ashraf camp was handed over to the Iraqi government, Iraqi forces launched a raid there that resulted in the deaths of 11 people and the capture of 36 more.

Since the clash, some Ashraf residents have been on hunger strike, demanding that the 36 captives be freed and calling on the Iraqi forces who took control of the camp to leave.

The Archbishop met a group of Ashraf campaigners last week. He urged the hunger strikers to end their protest, saying that further loss of life would only make recent tragic events worse.

"I hope that all concerned will listen to what those across the world who are deeply anxious about these human rights violations are saying, and respond as a matter of urgency," he added.

After the events of July 2009, US officials have maintained that the camp’s situation is a matter for Baghdad to handle as part of its wider security remit.

The US ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, is nevertheless pressing the Iraqi government to live up to assurances that the residents will be treated humanely and to make sure that they are not repatriated back to Iran where they could face imprisonment or worse.

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