January 2008 update

  • Don McKinnon (retiring Secretary General of the Commonwealth) has made the effort to meet the Chagossians on more than one occasion. Last month, whilst in Mauritius, he talked with Olivier Bancoult in Port Louis. He promised to raise the issue with Gordon Brown, and to ensure that his successor as head of the Commonwealth was fully briefed.

  • For some years, the Chagos Refugee Group (CRG) in Mauritius received financial help from the Ilois Support Trust for its office expenses. Unfortunately the trust is no longer in a position to provide such grants. The CRG currently rents an office for around £200 per month but is finding it difficult to continue to meet this cost. The group has been given a plot of land to build a community centre, but needs to raise funds quickly to start building, as the land will have to be given back to the Mauritian Government if it remains unoccupied. If any supporter is able to help in any way, however small, with this project, please contact us.

  • Allen Vincatassin, head of the Diego Garcian Society in Crawley, has started a fresh campaign for a visit to Diego Garcia and the outer islands of the Chagos for the UK-based islanders. The society intends to work with the Foreign Office to organise the visit. Allen has met with Harriett Harman, deputy leader of the Labour Party, who has expressed support. The local MP opened the ‘Plantation Club’ for members of the Diego Garcian Society in Crawley town centre.

    Allen also tells us:
    “During Christmas period, 44 islanders that arrived in 2004 with me have been paid their Jobseekers Allowance, which was allowed by the Social Security Tribunal about a year ago. Now the islanders can be paid state benefits before the period of six months of residency in the UK. If the big case that was lost last year, and now before the Court of Appeal, is won, incoming islanders could be considered as habitual residents on day one of their arrival in the UK.”

  • On 10 December the Parliamentary Under Secretary to the FCO, Sir Peter Rickettts, gave evidence to the Public Accounts Committee on the National Audit Office report entitled “Managing Risk in the Overseas Territories”. The report had been misleading in its description of the Chagos situation. Mr Austen Mitchell MP challenged Sir Peter on whether US defence interests were “more important than the human situation of people who have been taken away from their homes and want to go back there”. Mr Mitchell also asked: “In November 2000 Robin Cook accepted the judgment of the High Court that they had the right to return. Why did we not adhere to that position?” For more see the committee’s website.

  • A correspondent recommends Harry Campbell’s Whatever Happened to Tanganyika? (Portico, 2007, £9.99) The author turns a caustic eye on British policy and its result for the Chagossians on pages 113 – 117.

  • Former High Commissioner to Mauritius, David Snoxell, has been invited to speak at the Colloquium on the Royal Prerogative (Bancoult case) organised by the Cambridge Centre for Public Law on 19 January for senior judges, lawyers and academics.

  • The Prime Minister sent a New Year message to the Falklands in which he restated the government’s commitment to protecting the Islanders’ right to self-determination. Mr. Brown said it was time to look forward to the future “..and the opportunities we hope it will bring for sustainable development of the Islands’ natural resources whilst minimizing the impact on your stunning natural environment for generations of Falklanders to come.” If only he could extend that vision to Chagos…

    The PM also said that Britain’s policy on Overseas Territories is about self-determination, democracy and partnership. We know otherwise.