By Struan Stevenson, Balkan Insight
Wednesday, 9 March 2016
Tirana’s offer of refuge to enemies of the Iranian regime, facing massacre in Iraq, should be recognized by the world as a brave humanitarian gesture.
Albania deserves international credit and support both for its reforms in recent years and its defence of human rights. The latter has been demonstrated in particular by its offers of refuge to members of Iran’s main opposition group, who face imminent massacre in Iraq at the behest of the ruling Iranian theocracy.
From the struggling destitute nation of the Enver Hoxha years, the Albanian people have made remarkable strides towards becoming our key democratic partner in the Balkans. Though still a poor country, the Albanian people are renowned for their exceptional hospitality – a great tourism asset for the EU, which is considering Albania’s request for membership.
A major example of their hospitality is the role the Albanians that have played in defusing a major international humanitarian crisis in Iraq.
Several thousand members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, PMOI or MEK, a group of intellectuals dedicated to democracy, the rule of law and tolerance to people of others religions, have been facing repeated missile strikes and army assaults in Iraq by Tehran’s proxies. The PMOI are the ayatollahs’ most feared opponents, as their democratic interpretation of Islam poses a direct challenge to the mullahs’ claim to power through religious rule.
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is eager to massacre 2,000 defenceless refugees in Camp Liberty, where they live close to Baghdad. The last rocket attack on the group was on October 28, 2015, when 24 residents were killed and many more wounded. The United Nations refugee agency has recognized all Camp Liberty residents as asylum-seekers and refugees under international protection but seems unable to provide them with adequate security or protection from attack.
“Albania has done the right thing in accepting these residents, and at the same time, such demonstrations of support for the Iranian resistance are a source of exasperation for the ayatollahs in Tehran.”
As a member of European Parliament since 1999 and as chairman of European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq from 2009 to 2014, I got to know the Iranian opposition and its leadership intimately. My experiences culminated in a book I wrote about this movement and its struggle to liberate Iran, “Self Sacrifice – Life with the Iranian Mojahedin.” I held scores of meetings with Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the Iranian opposition and her colleagues. I found them highly educated and totally dedicated to the cause of freedom and human rights in Iran.
In spite of other policy reversals and political changes in Albania, two successive administrations and legislatures have taken in Camp Liberty residents in recent years, offering them refuge from persecution and death.
I went to Tirana at end of April 2014 to meet the first group of Camp Liberty residents who had been accepted by Albania. I had the chance to have private meetings with government officials, including the President and Prime Minister, thanking them for this humanitarian gesture. I was very impressed by these meetings and, after returning to Brussels, I immediately worked hard for the acceptance of Albania into the EU as a member state.
Albania has done the right thing in accepting these residents, and at the same time, such demonstrations of support for the Iranian resistance are a source of exasperation for the ayatollahs in Tehran. Iran’s fundamentalist regime sees the PMOI as for a threat to its extremist interpretation of Islam. Therefore, the ayatollahs do not want any country to accept them. It is Tehran alone that stands in opposition to their relocation to other safe countries and sadly, such is their power and influence that the Iraqi government almost always does their bidding.
The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security has been urgently attempting to derail the humanitarian process both by spreading misinformation against the group and by sending its agents to the Balkan state to take matters into their own hands. Over the years I have witnessed the great depths of Tehran’s demonization campaign against its archenemies.
That campaign has utterly failed at least as far as Albania is concerned, and I am hopeful that other European nations will now follow the Balkan state’s lead in helping to avert the humanitarian disaster facing Camp Liberty residents in Iraq. Nothing that Tehran does can suppress the fact that Albania’s efforts are morally, culturally, socially and politically the right thing to do. It is time for the rest of the international community to recognize Albania’s brave stance and offer it full support in resettling the PMOI.
If doing so leads to improved political and economic ties between the leading Western powers on both sides of the Atlantic and this newly-flourishing democracy, so much the better.
Struan Stevenson was a British Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014 and chaired the Friends of a Free Iran intergroup. He was President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq from 2009 to 2014.