January 2004 update

As usual, this will be in chronological order and not necessarily in order of importance.

1.Mark Curtis (author of “Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World”) kindly gave me some contact phone numbers for Oxfam, Christian Aid etc. but those organisations don’t have a programme running in Mauritius at the moment. Phil Bloomer of Oxfam was very sympathetic.

2.We wrote a letter to Olivier Bancoult and the CRG to congratulate the Chagossians on their success in the Indian Ocean Island Games.

3. Helen Hotelier has replaced Karen Sands at PRM European Lobbyists in Brussels and she was able to arrange meetings between the Chagossian representatives and members of the European Parliament in Rome. Seven members have offered support.

4. The meeting that took place, subsequent to the disastrous court result, between Olivier (Mauritius), Allan Vincatassin (Crawley), Jeanette Alexis (Seychelles) and Bill Rammell of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office did NOT go well. Total lack of sympathy from the F and C.O. who seem totally uncaring of the misery they have caused.

5. We are hoping that Allan, Olivier and Jeanette will form a strong alliance and present a united front to the UK and US governments. An administration in waiting perhaps?

6. Incidentally, we received many e-mails and messages of sympathy after the court case : can everyone be encouraged to keep mailing the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, their MPs etc? There are some helpful contact details on the web site.

7. We are now in contact with the Seychelles Chagossians and their leader, Jeanette Alexis. I have also been corresponding with Pierre Prosper who lives there and whose father was an administrator on Peros Banhos – Pierre was born there.

8. On 13 November a commemorative stele was unveiled to mark the arrival of the Chagossians on Mauritius. This was attended by the Mauritian Prime Minister.

9. Robert Bain, a journalist in the Bahamas, has done a wonderful job on our web-site and we are most grateful to him. He also wrote an excellent article about the Chagossian situation for his paper.

10. Paul Foot wrote an article for Private Eye about the Chagos situation in November. We need all the coverage we can get to make people aware of the situation.

11. At the beginning of December I was contacted by the Mayor of London’s Office regarding Chagossians in London. I would like to make contact, please, directly with any Chagossian actually living in London. Can anyone help me with that? Whilst sympathetic to the cause, Ken Livingston is in no position to act unless he has Chagossians living on his patch.

12. Two situations similar to that of the Chagossians were in the news in December :
(i) a group of Inuit in Greenland were trying to legally regain their lands which had been used by the US for many years for military purposes.
(ii) An impoverished community of 5,000 people, who had been forcibly removed from their diamond-rich territory by British colonial authorities in South Africa in the 1920s (yes, the 1920s) won the right to nearly a billion pounds in compensation. Hmmmm.

13. Sadly, Louis Cheri, resident in Crawley, died unexpectedly. It is sad that he never saw the land of his birth again and we extend deep sympathy to all his family and friends.

14. We were told, via e-mail from the Seychelles, of a Chagossian in distress in Yorkshire. Sylvia, our secretary, went to her rescue and she is now in Crawley where she has a job.

15. We hear the RSPCA are unhappy about the way the Islanders’ animals were so cruelly destroyed by the powers that be and may become involved with the cause.

16. A Norwegian student, Steffen, is currently on Mauritius as part of his studies. We hope that both he and the Chagossians will benefit from this interaction. As I write, Laura is visiting Seychelles but will soon be returning to the UK. (Laura is doing postgraduate work over there.)

17. Pierre Prosper (of the Seychelles) thinks they have not had as much exposure by the media as the Mauritian Chagossians. We are helping to remedy this by encouraging them to visit and contribute to our web site and you can visit their web-site too.

18. As many of you will have seen, Mark Seddon wrote an article in the Independent suggesting, strongly, that Diego Garcia is being used for holding prisoners – as is Guantanamo Bay. 23th.December 2003. Some people are thinking that Saddam Hussein could well be there. Seems a shame the rightful inhabitants can’t even visit their ancestors’ graves, doesn’t it?

19. At the beginning of this year, we received a mailing from an organisation called LALIT. This proposes sending a shipful of people to Diego Garcia in 2004. These would include anti-war activists, greenpeace-type activists, Mauritians and Chagossians. As an Association, we support all Chagossians: some favour confrontational action and some don’t so, as an official group, we will not be on the boat BUT individuals can make their own decisions. More information on www.lalitmauritius.com or email lalitmail@intnet.mu

20. Olivier was in Mumbai (India) earlier this month for the annual conference of the World Social Reform.

21. Tam Dalyell (our patron) decided this month that he will not return to Parliament after the next election. The current Father of the House will be sorely missed. He has declared himself “honoured” to stay on as patron. He adds that he would dearly love to see the Islanders home before he goes six feet under.
Following a report in the Sunday Times that Saddam Hussein might possibly be on Diego Garcia, Tam tabled a question to Tony Blair to ask if this was the case. However, the Table Office would only permit him to ask “where is Saddam Hussein?” He has been such a staunch supporter over the years and so has Jeremy Corbyn. My own MP, David Borrow, and his staff have always been most helpful to me too.

22. Allen Vincatassin and the Diego Garcia Island Council are contemplating a name change as they think the current world situation will prevent resettlement on Diego Garcia in the near future. They think settling the outer islands is a more realistic possibility. They want better education for all Chagossians in order for them to develop their full potential. They need to learn all the skills necessary for resettlement – tourism, fishery etc.

23. A new Oversees Territories Environmental Programme has been drawn up which involves all the relevant bodies – Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Department for International Development etc. They will all work together on environmental management activities for the UK overseas territories. This new initiative could assist in the setting up of a pilot resettlement programme on the Chagos which would be the best next step forward prior to permanent resettlement –infrastructure/communications being funded and put in place.

24. Basseer Hulkhory of the Ilois Trust has just returned from a lengthy time in Mauritius. He spent some of it working with the Chagos Refugee Council. He says the money which came from Comic Relief is running out this year and the CRG will be embarking on some local fund raising which they did quite successfully last year. The Trust is hoping to provide some funds for the Seychelles Group.

25. Fund raising goes on, too, in our Association with members giving talks, selling things etc. The Quakers have been particularly generous to us. We have no admin costs at all and all funds go to benefit Chagossians here or abroad. Any funds and suggestions for fund raising are very welcome.

26. Richard Gifford (of Sheridans) tells us that an appeal is planned against the decision of Mr.Justice Ouseley. Permission will be needed from the Court of Appeal. The legal tem believe there are good grounds for expecting this and, if so, there will be a full scale appeal later this year. Good.
Richard says the MEPs in Brussels are being supportive and he recently received an e-mail from a Swedish MEP, Mrs. Ulla Sandbaek, who is highly indignant that BIOT’s fishing revenues (about a million pounds a year) are being collected and not used for the benefit of the true inhabitants of the British Indian Ocean Territory. (Chagossians).
Richard feels the government is using the pending litigation as an excuse for inactivity when they should be getting on with resettling them. Tam has agreed to try and establish why there has been no progress with the feasibility study since July 2002.

27. On March 17th. and 18th. there will be a hearing of the judicial review brought by thirty Chagossians who arrived at Gatwick and sought help from West Sussex Council. I’ll quote from Richard’s letter: “This will be in the Administrative Court in the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand and will no doubt be an occasion for press interest. In fact all thirty Chagossians, having obtained temporary Court Orders and received interim support in consequence, have all now obtained jobs and moved into private accommodation. We offered to West Sussex Council to settle the case on the basis that we would withdraw it if they paid the Chagossians legal costs. They refused to do this saying that they wished to argue who was responsible as between the Council and the Government i.e. to make a test case out of the Government’s abject failures.”

28. Once again, can we, as an Association, urge you to keep on at your MP, Tony Blair, Jack Straw etc. We want to know a lot of things: when are the Islanders going to be allowed to visit Diego Garcia? (The UK government says the Americans won’t allow it and vice versa!) When are the government going to use the money from fishing licenses to start resettling the Islanders? (The Falkland Islanders get the income from licenses to fish their waters.) Don’t let the Foreign and Commonwealth Office get away with saying “They won the right to return (to the outer islands) but so far no-one has.” As you know, their infrastructure was destroyed and they are POOR. Why not remind Tony Blair how similar the Chagossian situation is to that of white farmers in Zimbabwe ? He was very indignant about Mugabe but OUR government deprived the Chagossians of THEIR land.

If you have patiently waded through all this, thank you!

Best wishes from all the committee,

Celia Whittaker (Secretary)