T. de Boer
- From internment to resettlement of refugees: on US obligations towards MeK defectors in Iraq
- Melbourne Journal of International Law
- Volume | Issue number
- 15 | 1
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Law (FdR)
- Amsterdam Center for International Law (ACIL)
This article focuses on the plight of defectors from the Mujahedin-e Khalq ('MeK'), an Iranian opposition group hosted by Saddam Hussein in Iraq until the United States took control of their main camp, Camp Ashraf, in April 2003. In the period of US control, nearly 600 persons defected from the MeK. The US Army housed the defectors in what was known as the Temporary Internment and Protection Facility ('TIPF'). It was contractually agreed upon that the voluntary internment of the TIPF residents, who were granted refugee status by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2006, would end as soon a viable disposition option was available: either voluntary repatriation to Iran, local integration in Iraq or resettlement in a third state. For a group of approximately 200 refugees, none of these options were available when the US closed the TIPF in April 2008. These refugees were advised to make their way to Europe via Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey. Most of them suffered extreme hardship along the way in the form of detention, refoulement and sometimes torture and death. The plight of the defectors raises a number of legal questions regarding the basis of their internment; the conformity with international humanitarian law in respect of their living conditions and treatment in the TIPF; and the lawfulness of their rather sudden release. The fact that, from the possible dispositions, only resettlement turned out to be appropriate raises the question of whether the US had, under these specific circumstances, an obligation to ensure the continued protection of those under its control by means of resettlement in the US or elsewhere, despite the fact that resettlement is, as a rule, a discretionary act.
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