(the first in a series regarding the situation of Iranian refugees and their children surviving in the desert in Iraq near the Syrian border, abandoned for a lifetime by the UNHCR and responsible governments).
During the long years of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), in an effort to extinguish all resistance to its authority, the Islamic Republic of Iran fought not only against Iraq, but against Iranian people in a war that Khomeini called the Sacred Defense. The rest of the world should not recognize that “Sacred Defense” as anything other than planned genocide of the people in Kurdistan, Iran, who have never recognized the Islamic Republic as the legitimate government of Iran. It was a “God-sent” tool the regime used to establish a barbaric rule over the freedom-loving and peaceful people of Iran.
Subjected to the strife of daily shellings and attacks during these years, thousands of Iranian Kurds were forced to abandon their homes and livelihoods and flee into Iraq to seek refuge. These asylum-seekers were relocated by the Iraqi government to the al-Tash Camp in the desert in al-Ramadi City, the center of al-Anbar Province, Iraq.
Over the years, from the 1980s until 2005, this group of more than 10,000 Iranian Kurds seeking refuge suffered a 50 percent mortality rate as they fought a war of attrition against suffering, injustice, and homelessness. These were years of hunger and sickness during which fathers and mothers witnessed their children perish. These children are among the estimated 5,000 refugees who lie in marked and unmarked graves in a burial ground near the al-Tash Camp.
After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, the al-Tash Camp became an even more dangerous place: a large number of al-Qaeda forces, ex-Baathists, and agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran infiltrated al-Tash. Dozens of the refugees were killed by these armed terrorist groups; in 2005, around 200 of the survivors fled for their lives, this time to the border of Jordan, where they attempted to seek asylum once more, this time from the insufferable and violent conditions in Iraq.
However, in contravention of international law the Jordanian government denied the group their right to Jordan as asylum-seekers. Instead, they were forced to survive in a makeshift camp in a desolate, desertified No Man’s Land in the border region between Iraq and Jordan. Community members report that they were attacked by the Jordanian army at the camp, and that many, including pregnant women, were injured during this attack. The refugees survived in tents and subsisted on supplies donated by passing travellers; there was no possibility for making a livelihood in the desert.
In July 2009, UNHCR arranged for the group to be moved from the desert wasteland of No Man’s Land to the desert wasteland of al-Waleed Camp, at Iraq’s border with Syria. In interviews, members of the group recall promises made to them by UNHCR on the day before the group was relocated to al-Waleed. Azad Javanmiri notes that “Mr. Daniel Endres, the UNHCR representative in Iraq, promised us on 4 July 2009, that after moving us to al-Waleed camp they will re-interview every refugee over the age of 18 years old, and after that they will submit our cases for resettlement in 3 stages: first, those who have medical problems (medical cases); second, those who have families in European countries (family reunification); and third, those cases who are completely political and do not fall into the first or second category.” Needless to say, the promises made to this group of Iranian Kurds – among whom are about 70 members of a persecuted minority religion called “Ahl-e-Haq” or Yarsan – were never fulfilled.
This is not to say that none of the refugees at al-Waleed were assisted by UNHCR and various governments. When this group of Iranian Kurds was transferred to al-Waleed on 5 July 2009, there were 1,500 Palestinian asylum-seekers in the camp. Soon after the Iranian Kurds arrived, a group of about 170 Iranian Arabs known as Ahwazis were also transferred to the camp; the population of the camp reached nearly 2,000. As of today, only around 200 Palestinians remain in the camp, the rest having been resettled in a safe third country, primarily the United States; those remaining are also expected to be resettled. Of the Ahwazis, 90 remain, with a number of families reportedly having received acceptance from a third country. (reference) The only group for whom the process of finding a secure, durable solution has stopped in its entirety is that of the 173 Iranian Kurds surviving – not living – in al-Waleed.
Residents of the camp report that UNHCR has not given any answer to any of the Kurdish asylum-seekers, who have been informed recently that the al-Waleed camp will be closed and the Iranian Kurds will be moved to Iraqi Kurdistan – a move that the group flatly objects to. Iraq, which generates more refugees than any other country in the world except Afghanistan, is not safe and cannot be considered a durable solution for any refugee. Their demand and their right is resettlement to a safe third country.
While the Palestinians and many of the Iranian Ahwazis have been resettled to safe third countries, this group of Iranian Kurds is being subjected to racist policies, supported by UNHCR, which determine who should be resettled in a safe part of the world and who should be left behind in war-torn, violent Iraq. The Iranian Kurds have been told by UNHCR that because they are Kurdish, they will be forced to stay in Iraq. UNHCR calls this policy “integration with the local population.” But determining who lives in safety, or who continues to suffer rightslessness and lack of security, on the basis of ethnicity can be stated much more parsimoniously. It is called, simply, “racism.”
Given the news that al-Waleed camp would close without an acceptable solution being found for this group – nearly half of whom were born in the refugee camps and have known no other life than misery, desperation, and injustice – the Kurds in the camp have been involved in a sit-in in front of the UNHCR offices in the camp for more than a month.
Appallingly, residents of the camp report that Iraqi forces – invited to the camp at the request of UNHCR staff – attacked the camp in their attempt to force an end to the extended hunger strike of two girls under the age of 18. Azad Javanmiri states that on 23 June 2011, Iraqi forces invited by UNHCR entered the camp, brandishing weapons and using physical violence. They forced the two girls on hunger strike into an ambulance against their will; they were later force-fed at a hospital. When the women in the camp witnessed the violence transpiring, they attempted to talk to the UNHCR staffperson who called the Iraqi forces into the camp. Rather than address their justified concerns, he instead got into his car and pushed through the group of refugees, injuring two women in the process: 20-year-old Farida Javanmiri’s right hand was broken in this incident, and Fereshteh Nazari, a mother of 6 children, was also injured.
A lifetime of forced displacement. No education, no job, no rights, not enough food. Too much death. These are people who have been abandoned for a lifetime to the burning desert sands, in the hopes that the world would forget about them. But instead of accepting even one more day of injustice, they have raised their voices and called out from the desert to the world. They ask for nothing more than their basic rights. Azad says, “We are human, and we want to live like humans.”
The Committee to Support the People of al-Waleed Camp (*) support the demands of the residents:
1- Immediate resettlement of the refugees to a safe third country.
2- Staff of UNHCR stationed at al-Waleed must be held responsible for the attack on the camp.
3- Appropriate services must be provided immediately, including adequate food rations, schooling for children in the appropriate language, and quality medical for residents of the camp, with particular attention paid to those injured by UNHCR staff.
We ask you to also support their demands, and advocate for them by writing, calling and faxing key decisionmakers and demanding that the rights of the Iranian Kurds in al-Waleed Camp be upheld. A sample letter that you can modify and send appears below, along with the email addresses for the relevant decisionmakers.
To the Foreign Minister/Secretary of State,
I am writing to you with regard to the intolerable situation of the Iranian Kurd refugees in al-Waleed Camp, Iraq.
The people living in this camp have suffered an entire lifetime of displacement, violence, and rightslessness, having fled Iran in the 1980s, and having survived unspeakable circumstances in Iraq over the course of the past two decades
Their current situation – living in tents in a burning desert at the Iraq-Syria border, without access to education or work or even sufficient food, with complete lack of security – is at root due to the genocidal crimes of the Islamic Republic of Iran. UNHCR also bears its full share of responsibility for failing to uphold even the most basic of rights for the camp’s Iranian Kurd residents. And the United States and the coalition governments also must own their share of responsibility for their situation: theirs are among the millions of lives that have been shattered as a direct result of the most recent war of choice in Iraq.
I therefore urgently request that your government take the lead in upholding the fundamental rights of these refugees from Iran. These refugees have a fundamental human right to asylum and protection. I ask your government to coordinate the immediate resettlement of the Iranian Kurds from al-Waleed Camp in Iraq to a safe third country.
UN, human rights addresss:
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Foreign ministries and selected other government responsibles:
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Media (some may bounce):
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(*) The Committee to Support the People of al-Waleed Camp is comprised of the following organizations:
Mission Free Iran
Iranian Kurdish Refugees Coordination in al-Waleed Camp
Kurdistan Committee of the Worker-communist Party of Iran
International Federation of Iranian Refugees
World Without Borders
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