April 2009 update

  • The Chagos Islands all-party parliamentary group held its fourth meeting on 18 March. The Group is seeking to arrange meetings with the High Commissioner for Mauritius; Hengride Permal, chair of the Chagos Islands Community Association; and Allen Vincatassin, leader of the Diego Garcian community.

    The Group had a meeting with Mr Bancoult and delegation and discussed a number of issues of concern to Chagossians both in Mauritius and the UK. Mr Bancoult made clear that for all Chagossians, restoration of the right to return was paramount and that whatever else HMG were able to do for them such assistance could not be a substitute for this. The Group drew attention to the amendment recently tabled in the Lords to the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill, which would grant UK citizenship by registration to those who would have had it if their parents had not been evicted. Whether or not the amendment is adopted by both the Lords and the Commons is yet to be seen.

    The Group then had a meeting with three officials from the US Embassy. The group has raised the issues of resettlement on the Outer Islands, the security of the base on Diego Garcia and the future of the 1966 Anglo-American Exchange of Letters, renewable in 2016, in a letter to President Obama. The American side made it clear that security of the Base and sovereignty was entirely the responsibility of the UK. The US had never taken a public position on resettlement on the Outer Islands. The Group looked forward to receiving a reply to the letter to the President.

    The Group’s next meeting is likely to be in the first half of May.

  • As well as meeting with the APPG, Olivier Bancoult and supporters also met with Foreign Office Minister Gillian Merron during their trip to the UK, and explained that they have not given up the desire to return to their homeland. A letter was handed to Ms Merron setting out the islanders’ requests and rights as British citizens concerning issues including health, education, pensions and culture.

    Olivier also had the chance to meet Reverend Jesse Jackson, who was in London for a forum on Sri Lanka, and who voiced his support. Olivier is planning a trip to the US in May.

  • On 4 April, the Lords discussed Lord Avebury’s amendment to the Citizenship Bill. Put very simply, whilst not seeing it as a substitute for repatriation to their own lands, he was trying to correct the anomaly that prevents second and third generation Chagossians gaining British citizenship. (The irony of this is, had they been born in the Chagos Archipelago and not exiled, British Citizenship would have been their birthright). Lord Avebury said that this was a matter of principle: the Islanders and their children should have the same rights as they would have enjoyed to transmit citizenship to their children as they would have had if they had not been evicted. One of the sad consequences of this is that families are split up. Lord Ramsbottom, Lord Bridges and Baroness Whittaker who, with Lord Avebury and the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, put in many long hours to prepare, brief and speak for the Chagossians, joined the discussion, but the government would not give way. Lord Brett, for the Government, also opined that updating the 2002 feasibility study was not necessary viz-a-viz resettlement despite the prevailing view that it had been discredited. The interventions by several members of the House of Lords in this debate reflect the increased parliamentary attention being devoted to the Chagossians and their plight since the establishment of the APPG.

  • On 25 March the European Parliament, in Plenary session, adopted a resolution calling for the European Union to take steps to seek the return of the Chagossians to their homeland. The parliament said it “recognises the plight of the people of the Chagos Archipelago, who have been forcibly removed from their islands and are currently living in a state of poverty in the islands of Mauritius and the Seychelles, and considers that the Union should work towards trying to find a solution for the Chagossians to allow them to return to their rightful homeland islands.”

    This was tabled by SW England MEP Glyn Ford, and the resolution was adopted by a majority of approximately 500 to 50.

  • Three Chagossians attended the launch of the proposed Chagos Conservation Area on 10 March, including Roch Evenor, secretary of this association, and Allen Vincatassin, president of the Diego Garcian Society in Crawley. They were invited to speak and made low key interventions supporting the initiative and Vincatassin said his group would work in partnership with the CCT on the project. David Snoxell spoke on behalf of the members of the Chagos APPG, which he coordinates, and described the group’s work. He pointed out that it fully supported the initiative but the interests of the Chagossians remained paramount, and that the Group was pleased that Chagossians would be employed in conservation but that the right of return and abode had to be part of that. Chagossians should not become mere contract workers.

  • An article by Phil Davison in the Financial Times on 12 March was headlined ‘Chagos Islander who fought for justice’. It tells the story of Regina Mandarin whose death in Crawley was reported in last month’s update. Born in Chagos, marrying and having her first child there, she died in exile in the country that uprooted her.
    ‘Like many people of African origin around the world, she was emotionally over-whelmed by Barack Obama’s US election victory. In her local church in England, according to her daughter Jessica, “she prayed to give him strength throughout his term, and she prayed that one day he would at least hear the story of the Chagos islanders”.’
    Sadly, her story is typical of the Chagossians.

  • Finally, an unusual request:

    ‘My name is William and I live in Italy. My hobby is collecting sand of all the World. Would you like to help me please? Can you send me a little sand of the CHAGOS ISLANDS? For me is much important, only 30ml and name beach. In the new year I open the museum of the sands in the world and I speak the history of Chagos.

    Thank you very much.

    My address is:
    CASTELLANI WILLIAM
    VIA BURGO N 6
    43058 SORBOLO PARMA

    Best regards

    William’

    Can anyone help William in his search?