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

Many Catholic and Anglican priests from London today 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 Dr 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.

Many other church leaders including the Rt Rev and Rt Hon Dr Richard John Carew Chartres, Bishop of London has also joined the Archbishop of Canterbury in his support for the victims of Camp Ashraf.

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 office of Archbishop of Westminster who had assigned an official to pursue matters and a meeting will be held soon between the Archbishop’s representatives and the families of the victims of Ashraf and the priests who are working in their support.

Reverend Lindsay Meader, the minister at St James' Church in Piccadilly, said: “In order to implement the announcement of Archbishop of Canterbury, we are going to contact the Anglican Communion Observer at the UN Dr. Hellen Wangusa and the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion Canon Keneth Kearon to ask Ban Ki-moon to intervene, to send monitoring teams to Camp Ashraf to ensure the protection of its residents and to save the lives of 36 detained without charge by the Iraqi police".

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, prominent women's rights activist and director of Widows for Peace and Democracy announced that from tomorrow she would join the Iranians on hunger strike for the next five days.

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

Reverend 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 nine of a hunger strike demanding action to prevent another attack.

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