August 2010 update

The Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group held its 14th meeting on 21July. The Group noted that membership now stood at 40 which included several MPs from the new intake.

The Group considered the Government’s replies to the 7 questions which members had tabled in the Lords since the last meeting and the short debate in the Lords on 29 June. The Group was disappointed that the answers re-stated earlier FCO positions, and made little attempt to answer the Questions tabled but they acknowledged that the Foreign Secretary was reviewing the “whole pattern of issues” concerning the future of the Chagos Islands and the Chagossian people and that this review had not yet been completed. The Group therefore reiterated its wish, as expressed in the Chairman’s letter of 18 June to the Foreign Secretary, to engage in a constructive and cooperative way with FCO Ministers and officials before the review concluded, and to have a meeting with Henry Bellingham, the FCO Minister responsible for Chagos Islands.

The Group took note of a letter of 6 June from the UK United Nations Association to Mr Bellingham, urging the new UK Government to work with the Chagossians and implement the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee on the right of return, without waiting for a decision of the ECtHR. They were pleased to note that the Foreign Secretary was reported to have told Dr Philippa Gregory, in a constituency surgery on 9 July, that whilst he had taken no decision concerning the future of the Islanders it appeared that the best solution would be for the Chagos people to return to the Outer Islands.

The APPG discussed activity in the EU Parliament and questions tabled by members. They also considered a resolution, following a speech by Olivier Bancoult, of the EU-ACP joint parliamentary Assembly meeting in Seychelles on 15 July which unanimously supported the Chagossian cause (adding further weight to the EP resolution of 25 March 2009).The resolution also censured the MPA project which was seen as a means of blocking the return of the Chagossians. It was reported that Clifford Chance, the legal representatives of Mr Bancoult and the CRG, had issued proceedings to challenge the MPA in order to give the FCO more time to reply to the questions raised by lawyers concerning its legality. Noting that while the MPA had been designated but not legally implemented the Group would wish to discuss with the Minister how that was to be achieved bearing in mind the need for agreement with Mauritius and the Chagossians.

The Group was informed that there could be a further delay by the ECtHR which might decide first to consider the implications of the judgment in another case concerning jurisdiction.

The APPG will have its next formal meeting on 13 October but has asked for a meeting with Mr Bellingham in the meantime.

David Snoxell

Chagos Islands APPG Coordinator

Written answers and statements, House of Commons:

26 July 2010

Henry Smith (Crawley, Conservative)
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether second-generation descendants of former residents of the British Indian Ocean Territory are entitled to British citizenship.
Damian Green (Minister of State (Immigration), Home Office; Ashford, Conservative)
There are no automatic routes by which second generation descendants of former residents of the British Indian Ocean Territory can acquire British citizenship. They can apply for citizenship through registration, or naturalisation if over the age of 18, based on a period of residence in the United Kingdom.
A person born stateless outside of the United Kingdom and overseas territories to a British Overseas Territories citizen may apply for registration as a British overseas territories citizen under schedule 2 of the British Nationality Act 1981 following a period of residence in the UK or an overseas territory immediately before the application. After acquiring British overseas territories citizenship in this way they may subsequently apply for full British citizenship.

Whilst patently a very accurate answer to the question, no allowance is made for the fact that Chagossians were forcibly exiled from their homeland and would not be in the position they find themselves were it not for the UK government.

This question was the result of a meeting between UKCSA Chair, Roch Evenor , the Comitee Chagos and Henry Smith MP.

“Comite Chagos met recently with Henry Smith MP (Crawley, Con.) regarding some issues being experienced by the Chagossians living in the UK. Presently, there are 3rd generation Chagossians living in the Seychelles and Mauritius who are not allowed to get a UK passport due to the fact that they have not stayed here more than 5 years. They are not getting visas and they are sent back when they land here in the UK. This is another injustice because this is once again dividing the families as happened 45 years ago when some families landed in the Seychelles and the other in Mauritius. Mr. Smith took this point into Parliament in the Question Time but the answer was not favourable.
The second point was that Chagossians should be given more say in whatever forum is formed on our behalf and Mr. Smith said he would take it to the next APPG meeting.

Roch Evenor”

27 July 2010
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he plans to reply to the letter from the hon. Member for Islington North of 10 June 2010 on behalf of the Chagos Islands all-party parliamentary group.
David Lidington (Minister of State (Europe and NATO), Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Aylesbury, Conservative)
We did not receive the letter referred to by the hon. Member for Islington North, but have now sought to obtain a copy and will reply as soon as possible.

(Sent via the internal parliamentary post but, not for the first time, disappeared in transit.)

European Parliament.

Dr Charles Tannock MEP, Conservative Human Rights and Foreign Affairs spokesman in the European Parliament, met recently with The Chagos Refugee Group and submitted a Written Question to the European Commission.

Question submitted by Dr.Charles Tannock (ECR)

Subject: Resettlement of Chagos Islanders.

The European Parliament Resolution of 25 March 2009 (P6_TA(2009)0180) on the interim agreement establishing a framework for an Economic Partnership Agreement between Eastern and Southern Africa States on the one part and the European Community and its Member States on the other part called for the Union to “work towards trying to find a solution for the Chagossians to allow them to return to their rightful homeland islands”.

What does the Commission intend to do to take forward this work with respect to the Chagos Islands and resettlement? Does the Commission intend to work with Member State representatives in the Council?

(Questions to the Commission are usually answered in about six weeks.)

STILL WITH POLITICIANS.

Nick Clegg, deputy Prime Minister, said in an interview: “The UK has a special responsibility towards all of our overseas territories…….Most of the general public in Britain expect their Government to fulfil their responsibilities to the overseas territories, and the coalition will do just that.”

Andrew Mitchell, International Development Secretary, said: “The government recognises its special responsibilities and international obligations towards its overseas territories, and is committed to supporting their economic development.”

British Indian Ocean Territory or, as it is known to its rightful inhabitants, the Chagos Archipelago is a UK Overseas Territory.

Prime Minister of Mauritius. In his speech at the 15th African Union Summit of the head of States and head of Government held in Kampala, Uganda, Prime Minister Dr Navin Ramgoolam has addressed key factors that are crucial to fostering economic and social development in Africa. This included, amongst other things, finding a solution to the Chagos problem. “We want to return the Chagossians to their islands,” Dr Ramgoolam asserted.

Seychelles hosted the joint parliamentary meeting of the African, Caribbean and Pacific-European Union’s East African region last month. (EU-ACP)

Olivier Bancoult, leader of the CRG in Mauritius was invited as a special guest and made the following speech:

It is a great honour to stand in front of you today after 40 years of ongoing Chagossian struggle to provide a setting and a perspective for a session on the Chagos case. I wish to express my heart-felt appreciation for the opportunity given to me as the Chagossian leader.

In 1968, 2500 of our people were uprooted from our homeland. 40 years later, only 700 of the native born Chagossians are still alive. Still alive yet not living, unable to breathe the freedom or liberty of being in one’s homeland. In the first week of June, three of our elders passed away. Think! Imagine the loss that this represents to the Chagossian community? To us Chagossians the loss of one member is a constant reminder that the Chagossian culture, heritage and traditional knowledge are in danger of extinction. We the Chagossians are part of Africa and what distinguishes Africa from the rest of the world? It is our acceptance of different cultures, tribes and traditions? Each of us belongs to a different culture but together we form ONE Africa. Today I am appealing to all my African Brothers, to help me in my fight to return to my homeland. My fight is your fight and hand in hand, in a spirit of brotherhood, let us show that Africa did not, does not and will never accept its brothers being deprived of its culture, its land, its HOME! In June, the CRG celebrated the 85th birthday of Olivier Bancoult’s mother. Sadly, his brother, Joseph Raynal Bancoult died last month at the age of 68. His funeral was on 27th July. Another Chagossian who will not be going home.

The British High Court of Justice has established the responsibility of Britain, in this most arbitrary episode of total disregard of human rights in modern times. The fact that Britain has had to grant us British citizenship is an acknowledgment of the grievous wrong caused to us. The recognition of our status as natives of what is now officially the British Indian Ocean Territory is a further step towards justice. As citizens of Britain and Europe the Chagos case is of concern to us all. My presence here also serves to highlight the incapacity of Britain, worse still, its persistent refusal to abide by and act upon the various British court judgements upholding our fundamental rights of justice, of reparation and of return to our homeland.

I do not have to remind you of the arbitrariness of its recourse to Orders in Council and ultimately to the Law Lords which conceded in a split judgement. I invite you to reflect on the arguments, which formed the basis of the Law Lords’ judgement.

Why did they not question legal or human rights?

Why did the argument rest solely on the financial implications of acceding to our right of return to the Chagos and on the Britain’s security obligation towards the USA?

No wonder the Law Lords’ judgment was not unanimous!

In the coming months, the European Court of Human Rights will start its hearing on our case. The EU ACP meeting here in this part of the Indian Ocean is symbolic. It is an indication that the Chagossian tragedy is on the agenda, (ongoing since the 1960s) and is now being taken seriously. I am grateful for this humane gesture at this crucial juncture.

As you know, the outgoing British government declared the Chagos a Marine Protected Area. The decision was taken unilaterally, without completing the full consultation process, and on the eve of a general election. The then Opposition parties denounced the outgoing government and took the commitment to review the whole affair. We have written to Prime Minister Cameron on this pre-emptive move by the preceding government in view of the forthcoming hearing by the European Court of Human Rights.

We have reiterated our position, stated in a letter to the previous Foreign Secretary, in which we have denounced the move as a calculated device to undermine our right of return.

We have also made it clear that we are all for protecting the land and marine environment of the Chagos, but not at the cost of our right of return. And not without us! We have been the secular guardians of our homeland’s environment and we have denounced the fallacious argument that the military base in Diego Garcia is not a necessary component of the MPA project of the previous British government.

The new government has already expressed its commitment to revise the ongoing policy on the Chagos case. The forthcoming hearing by the European Court of Human Rights will help break the dead end situation created by the Law Lords’ decision.

Ladies and gentlemen, OUR fight to return to Our Homeland is filled with Ironies. We the Chagossians are also Africans, British and Europeans. We are welcomed at every forum, in every country, Ministers, Parliamentarians, Everyone sympathizes with us, understands our dilemma, shares our sorrows, acknowledges the injustice done but the fight goes on! WHY? We are fighting for our Human Rights but are Human Rights not inherent? We are born with them, so why do WE Chagosssians have to fight for rights which are already OURS? The answer is frighteningly clear. We are being denied our right to return to our homeland. I say WE because the injustice done to the Chagossians is injustice done to Mankind. Our forcible removal from our home reflects the ‘still sad music of humanity’. Remedying the wrong done to the Chagossians is redeeming mankind of acts of atrocities perpetuated to the Chagosssians. Now, more than ever, Brothers from Africa and from Europe, should renew their commitments to uphold human rights values and only the resettlement of the Chagossians will evoke a genuine commitment to international human rights obligations. Nothing less!

NEWS FROM THE CHAGOS REFUGEE GROUP, Mauritius.

1. Obituary

Sad news…. Olivier Bancoult’s brother, Joseph Raynal Bancoult, 68 years, passed away on Saturday 24 July. The funeral was held on Monday 26 July. (UKCSA sends their deepest sympathy to his family and friends on this sad loss. Another Chagossian who will not be going home.)

2. Activities during school holidays

a) 227 children of Std III to Std VI accompanied by 34 adults went on an outing on 23 July and visited three sites in the South of the island.

b) A talk on HIV/AIDS was organized on 29 July for 50 young people of Roche Bois and Tombeau Bay.

c) A residential seminar for 50 young people was held from 05-07 August in Pointe aux Sables.

3. Tuckshop at Pointe aux Sables

The construction of the tuckshop is going on smoothly and has reached 75% completion

Since moving from Cassis to new premises in Pointe aux Sables, CRG phone & fax number have been changed from (230) 213-0216 to (230) 234 -1024. Everyone is welcome to visit their website on www.chagosrefugeesgroup.net.

PRESS COVERAGE

Articles about Chagos have appeared in various publications including Geographical (Royal Geographical Society), Mauritius Times (link in covering e-mail with this Update), Straits Times and Open Democracy amongst others.

The most recent is in This is Sussex
Two talented students hope to return to their ancestral home more than 40 years after the entire population was forced to leave. Pascaline Cotte and Louis Augustin, both 18, leave tomorrow to study marine environmental protection on the Caribbean island of Tobago. The pair hope to learn skills which will allow them to help protect waters around Diego Garcia, the Indian Ocean island where their families once lived.
Earlier this year the area was designated a Marine Protected Area (MPA) to prevent damage by commercial fishing and create a “safe haven” for sea life.
The two scholars have been chosen from Crawley’s Diego Garcian population to help them become “stewards” over their community’s homeland. Since the early 1970s, only two small groups of islanders have set foot on Diego Garcia on visits and neither Pascaline nor Louis have ever been there.
Pascaline, who will receive her A-level results later this month, said: “I want to see where my family comes from and help them conserve it so that when they go back it is still as it was, a real paradise.”
Speaking about the scholarship, the Langley Green teenager added: “This is going to be a great opportunity for me and I hope to learn a lot. I want to learn about endangered species and how I can help protect them.”
Louis, who lives in Maidenbower and is studying to be a mechanic at Central Sussex College, said: “I am excited. In the future I want to work on Diego Garcia to learn a lot and maybe help the environment.
“I want to live there and help protect it, although I like it here in Britain – except the weather.”
Allen Vincatassin, chairman of the Diego Garcian Society, which represents
(some of the) islanders in the UK, told The News he is delighted the scholarships have been awarded. He said: “This is a great opportunity for members of our community and marks the initial steps for our descendents becoming stewards of the protected area.” Mr Vincatassin says training young people is essential preparation if Diego Garcians are to play a part in protecting their homeland. He added: “These two will definitely have opportunities when they arise in the future to join any kind of project in the protection of Diego Garcia.”
The scholarships have been created by a partnership between Coral Cay Conservation, the Diego Garcian Society and the Chagos Conservation Trust.
The intensive four-week course will bring Pascaline and Louis together with volunteers from all over the world on a mission to survey the waters around Tobago, learning to dive and protect coral reefs and other wildlife in the process

UKCSA wishes the youngsters well and hopes that the CCT/CCC will make similar opportunities available to the much larger groups of Chagossians living in Mauritius and Seychelles rather than just a small group settled here in the UK.

Message from the vice-chair of UKCSA:
As you know, the UKCSA has been working extremely hard to support the Chagossian people in their fight for justice and in their fight to survive from day to day. The moral and financial support from you has been absolutely vital in this task.
In recent times the pressures on our finances has grown as the need to support the community has grown. As we stand, the UKCSA is perilously low on funds and we are having to ask you for help.
If you might know a donor who could help, be prepared to organise a fundraising event for us or would consider making a donation yourself, we would be hugely grateful.
If you wish to make a direct financial contribution then please send our treasurer, Sylvia Boyes a cheque at 43, Wimborne Drive, Keighley. BD21 2TR made out to UK Chagos Support Association. If you wish to discuss fundraising or other ideas please give me a ring on 07949575615, or drop me an email at marcusbooth@hotmail.com – I will get straight back to you.

Marcus Booth