IV REPATRIATION, REFUGEE STATUS AND RESETTLEMENT
In 2003, the MeK defectors were informed that a stay of several weeks or months in a separate camp outside Camp Ashraf was expected before viable disposition would be available (hence the name 'Temporary Internment and Protection Facility'). (287) As indicated in Part III, the Release Agreement identified four possible disposition options: return to the country of origin, resettlement in a third country, local integration or application to international organisations such as UNHCR. (288) The viability of these options and the manner in which they were made available to the internees--whose stay in the TIPF turned out to be considerably longer than initially expected--are analysed in this Part.
Local integration in Iraq was never considered to be a viable disposition option: current and former members of the MeK were--and still are--at risk in Iraq due to their affiliation with the Ba'ath regime and their alleged participation in the suppression of the Kurdish uprising, (289) a fact that had induced their internment in the first place. The new Iraqi rulers, who were re-establishing diplomatic relations with Iran, (290) clearly had no interest in continuing to allow former allies of Saddam Hussein to remain in their territory and called for the expulsion of the MeK from Iraq. (291) Since the presence of the Mujahedin in Iraq had merely been based on the informal acquiescence of the Ba'ath regime, (292) expulsion of the organisation and its members was considered to be legally possible.
The remaining three options were pursued by the US with varying degrees of success. Before 2006, repatriation was the sole disposition option presented to the TIPF residents and, although the efforts of the US and the ICRC to return the TIPF residents to Iran were successful from a logistical point of view--in the sense that they significantly reduced the number of residents in the TIPF--the question is whether the repatriation was voluntary and safe. The second option, application to international organisations such as UNHCR, would only materialise in 2006 but did not induce the release of the TIPF residents. The legal consequences of refugee status determination by UNHCR are analysed below. The last disposition option, resettlement, was presumably the most appropriate solution for the TIPF residents. However, resettlement requests made by UNHCR fell on deaf ears, not least because the US itself refused to offer any resettlement places to the refugees concerned.
A Repatriation to Iran: Voluntary and Safe?
1 Repatriation from the TIPF
At its peak, in late 2004, the TIPF housed some 500 MeK defectors. (293) However, just a year later only about 170 internees remained, a number that would increase to 200 in 2006. The explanation for this reduction is the repatriation of some 320 residents to Iran. (294) The possibility of return had been announced by Major General Miller in a letter of 14 November 2004:Dear Protected People of the TIPF, With great pleasure, I am writing to inform you that Multi-National Forces--Iraq have recently facilitated a visit between the...