Thursday, 24 September 2009

London priests support Archbishop’s call for protection of Iranian refugees in Iraq

Numerous London priests on Thursday supported a call by the Archbishop of Canterbury urging the US government and the international community to protect 3,500 Iranian refugees in Camp Ashraf in Iraq, and in particular 36 people who are being held while on hunger strike at an Iraqi prison despite two court rulings ordering their release.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who recently met several relatives of the Ashraf residents on hunger strike, has urged the US – as the agency responsible for the transfer of the residents to another jurisdiction – to live up to its obligation to secure the rights of these residents and to defend them from further violence or abuse.

Supporting Dr. Williams’ call, Father Frank Nally, from the Missionary Society of St. Columban, told a press conference outside the US embassy he had been in contact with the Archbishop of Westminster who had assigned an official to liaison between the priests and the UN Secretary General in order to compel the UN to station a monitoring team in Ashraf to prevent another attack.

Reverend Lindsay Meader, a minister at St. James' Church in Piccadilly, said: "We are going to contact the Anglican Communion Observer at the UN Dr. Hellen Wangusa and the secretary general of the Communion Canon Keneth Kearon to ask Ban Ki-moon to send a monitoring team to Ashraf to ensure the protection of its residents".

Iraqi armed forces attacked the civilian population in the camp at the end of July, killing and injuring some 500 refugees and arresting the 36. The residents of Ashraf and their relatives, many of whom are on day 59 of a hunger strike, fear another imminent attack.
The priests said they were concerned by the fact that there seems to be no international body which has undertaken to ensure that such an attack is not repeated. They said these fears prompted the head of the Anglican Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, earlier this week to publicly state: "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.  There is a strong argument in terms of international law that the Ashraf residents are ‘protected persons’.” 

Father Aodh O’Halpin, of the Missionary Society of St. Columban in London, said: "We pray for justice and peace for this group in London and other parts of the world and in Ashraf. We know God will have a special regard for those suffering in Ashraf".

Reverend Joe Hawes, of the All Saints Fulham Church, said: "People are crying out for help and the deafening silence from the responsible authorities is shocking, not least because the residents of Ashraf are on hunger strike".

Margaret Owen, a London barrister and prominent women's rights activist, announced that from tomorrow she would join the Iranians on hunger strike for the next five days.

Paul Walsh, from the Church of Notre Dame de France in London, called for the release of the 36 Ashraf residents.

Father Robert Hampson, of the Holy Trinity Vicarage of South Woodford, said: "36 people have been arrested, and against due law and two court orders they have not been released. We want to see action from those who have a say internationally, namely the UN. We want a UN inspection group in Ashraf; we want the American government to take its responsibilities seriously for human life".

Today is day 59 of a hunger strike by the 36 Ashraf residents in detention, many of whom have become critical ill with one losing his vision completely. Other Ashraf residents and hundreds of Iranians abroad are also on week 9 of a hunger strike demanding action to prevent another attack.

Christian Committee in Support of Camp Ashraf
24 September 2009

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