By Lord Maginnis of Drumglass
While the European Union has properly called on Albania to carry out judicial reform in order for talks to progress towards its full membership of the bloc, the tiny Balkan state must surely be commended for its practical activity on the international stage insofar as it contributes towards the prevention of a humanitarian disaster in the making.
Though less than three million in population and a nation that escaped totalitarian rule only a quarter century ago, Albania has been working hard to rebuild itself as a worthy member of the international community. In 2009 it joined NATO, and two years ago it was granted EU candidate status. But one of the positive actions of the south-east European state that must be acknowledged is its role in preventing the massacre of several thousand Iranian refugees left stranded in Iraq.
Members of the main opposition group to Iran's ruling theocracy have been based in Iraq for more than 30 years, where they built a modern vibrant community "Camp Ashraf" in the middle of the desert in central Iraq. However, subsequent to the Iraq war against Saddam, they have increasingly become a pawn of the Iranian regime's attempts to have these Iranian dissidents forcibly repatriated to certain torture and death in Iran and, in the interim, these defenceless refugees have been the targets of deadly armed attacks by the Iranian regime on the so-called 'Camp Liberty' to which they were expelled.
The fate of these Iranian dissidents, members of the People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI or MEK), has increasingly become a crisis point for the U.S. and the United Nations which despite several written assurances to the dissidents have failed repeatedly to protect them from gun and rocket attacks by agents of the Iranian regime. To date, more than 140 of the residents have been killed in such attacks and a further 1000 injured - that despite UNHCR recognition that all the PMOI members, who are situated in Camp Liberty, near Baghdad, are refugees and 'people of concern' under international law. The last rocket attack on the camp occurred in October past when 24 PMOI members were killed.
The reason for Tehran's hostility towards the PMOI is simple. They are the main organized opposition group that threaten to unseat the mullahs. The PMOI espouses a democratic, tolerant interpretation of Islam that is in direct contradiction with that which the mullahs have been pursuing in the past three decades. The PMOI's leader, the charismatic Mrs Maryam Rajavi, articulated this as long ago as April 2006 when she addresses the Council of Europe and her "10-Point Plan for a Future Iran" has been consistently espoused since that time.
The current Iranian regime, despite President Rouhani's posturing and election management, lacks popular support and is ruling over its people with an iron fist. The supreme leader Ali Khamenei's position remains unchanged as he contemplates a repeat nationwide revolt against his clerical establishment similar to that in 2009. Though at the time, in part due to U.S. President Barack Obama's misguided policy of reaching out to the regime, Khamenei managed to force the genie back in the bottle, there's no guarantee that it could succeed to do the same in the event of another 'Persian Spring'. As such, organized opposition groups like the PMOI, which lead popular protests, cannot be tolerated, and Tehran is making every effort to eliminate them by brutal means.
But brute force is not the only means Tehran employs to neutralize its opponents. One action that is being undertaken by the Iranian regime's Ministry of Intelligence and Security is to spread misinformation against the PMOI in the West in an attempt to demonize the group. That signals, as before, the prelude to a further massacre in Camp Liberty. Why, one must ask, do the U.N. and U.N.A.M.I. virtually dismiss what has happened before despite timely warnings?
Specifically in the case of Albania's brave decision to host PMOI members for resettlement, Tehran's notorious Intelligence Ministry is using its covert agents in the West to claim that the resettlement of these Iranian dissidents could result in the formation of a 'terrorist' hub within Europe's borders. Yet, the European Court of Justice, UK courts and American courts have each refuted the claim that the PMOI is involved in terrorism in any shape or form. Rather the PMOI has played a pivotal role in exposing the Iranian regime's nefarious conduct, including its exportation of terrorism. The PMOI and its wider coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), led by a courageous Muslim woman Mrs Maryam Rajavi, represents a democratic alternative to the terrorist-sponsoring regime in Tehran.
While the EU makes demands of the Albanian government for internal reforms, it should also be forthcoming in its support for Tirana's humanitarian resettlement project for the PMOI. Its commitment to the principles and values of democracy and human rights in this area has been exemplary and where Albania is unequivocally proving its value in these uncertain times.
This article first appeared in Huffington Post