June 2005 update

We are delighted to report that the legal challenge being brought by Olivier against the Orders in Council is well under way. The Orders in Council (a Royal Prerogative) were undemocratically used in June 2004 to overturn the High Court decision of 2000 that deemed the Chagossians forced removal from their homeland to be illegal. Richard Gifford of Sheridans is arguing that the Crown has no right to contravene International Law principles of the Right of self-determination, nor Human Rights of home, privacy and freedom from degrading treatment, in the exercise of its powers to legislate directly for the Overseas territories.

Recently, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a speech in which she said “Democracy means freedom from the midnight knock.” It wasn’t midnight when the Chagossians were herded on to the ship taking them into exile but they lost their homes, land and most of their possessions whilst their animals were shot and gassed. All this done by one democratic government (UK) so that another (USA) could use one of the islands for a military base.

An American supporter recently told us of a similar situation there. The USA, during the Depression, deported thousands of Latinos to Mexico. Many were US citizens who happened to have Spanish-sounding surnames. Ironically, they were recalled when needed to fight for “their” country in World War II. Senator Joe Dunn of California is fighting for some recognition and redress for the deportees.

Since the general election last month, Lord Triesman of Tottenham has replaced Bill Rammell at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

There is no further news on the oft-delayed trip to the Archipelago for the Islanders : perhaps Lord Triesman can speed things up?

We have been contacted by a traveller who visited some of the islands on the Wexas trip earlier this year. Apparently the “yachties”, who sail small boats independently in the area and visit the outlying islands, had been preparing for the Chagossians visit by doing “a superb job of clearing the paths for elderly people and cleaning up the graveyard.” What a lovely gesture. The British Representative (based on Diego Garcia) made it clear to the yachties that they were not to be anywhere around during the Islanders visit which, of course, was then “postponed”.

Exile is still a very real state for the older Chagossians. In his excellent “Contested Roots”, Steffen Johannessen writes “Though having been expelled from the territory, Chagos is very much present as ‘vibrant images’, expressed by an elderly woman ‘When I close my eyes, I know all the places where people lived.’.”

The good news from the Chagossians in Crawley is that the government decided not to appeal against the decision that they should not have to live here for six months before they can get any assistance – the habitual residency test. Sadly, the back payments have not yet been made. On the plus side, all the Chagossians are now settled in private accommodation and many have now found work. They have come here to build a new life for themselves, not to sponge off the state, but a helping hand to start would not go amiss preferably from the government who owed them a duty of care and betrayed their trust.
After reading “Derasine : The Expulsion and Impoverishment of the Chagossian People” (Vine, Sokolowski and Harvey), it would seem that it is CHEAPER to exile islanders than to keep them in their homeland if you do as little as the UK has done for the Chagossians! St Helena gets about two thirds of its annual budget from the UK and Montserrat desperately needed (and received) £180 million after the volcanic activity of 2003. In the mid-seventies (soon after the Chagos Island Clearances) the UK put £46 million into development of the Falkland Islands. Yes, £46 MILLION in the SEVENTIES for a population of about 2,500 (and went to war to keep them there). Compare that with the pittance the Chagossians received in exile.
In “Derasine”, the authors show how the Chagossians were impoverished in many ways and categorized them thus:

1.Traumatic Expulsion
3.Economic and Social-Psychological Marginalisation
5.Landlessness and Lost Common Property
6.Food Insecurity and Malnutrition
7.Increased Morbidity and Mortality
8.Sociocultural Fragmentation
9.Educational Deprivation
10.Ethnic Discrimination.

Just to touch on point 9, Educational Deprivation : Chagossians in Mauritius live in the poorest areas with, therefore, the poorest schools and although education is free, books, transportation, exam fees etc. are not. A very large part of the donations you kindly send to this Association are sent to Mauritius to help the children with these costs.
The Chagossians are very grateful for all contributions sent, every little helps.

On the subject of money, this appeared in a British newspaper recently : “Tea and biscuits at the Treasury are being consumed at a cost of more than £500 a day ….teatime at the Treasury in 2003/2004 cost £188,000. A Treasury spokesman said the costs were not excessive for a department with about 1,000 staff which has many visitors.” Could one suggest they all bring their own flasks and the government uses the money saved to help get the Chagossians back on their feet?

If you have not read Peter Benson’s book “A Lesser Dependency” do try to get hold of a copy. It is a very moving novel based on the Chagossian exile. Painfully close to the reality of their situation, it won the Encore Award but is, unfortunately, now out of print. Try your local library or www.abebooks.com – just type in the title and Peter Benson’s name. We appreciate Mr. Benson’s continuing interest in the Plight of the Chagossians.

Earlier this month, a play called “Exiled From Paradise” by Anita Sullivan was broadcast on Radio 4. This was inspired by the true stories of the people of Diego Garcia. We are still trying to get hold of a recording of this.

Radio 4’s “Any Questions” came from Southport at the end of May and one kind supporter attended hoping to ask a question. Hers didn’t get picked but perhaps everyone would like to ask their MP or the Prime Minister for an answer to it?
“During the election, we were told frequently about Truth, Trust, Integrity and Freedom, followed, in the Queen’s speech, by Respect, Honesty, Fairness and Safe and Secure Communities. How would the panel (Prime Minister?) reconcile these words with the government’s actions towards the Chagos Islanders from Diego Garcia in their quest to return to their homeland, who, for forty years have been the victims of successive government’s being economical with the truth?”

The Prime Minister can be mailed at 10, Downing Street, London or via www.number10.gov.uk

On July 31st from 11.00 am to 6.00 pm, Berwick upon Tweed are holding a “Green Fair” where Chagossian issues will be aired by supporters from the area. Lucy, accompanied by Paul, will also, hopefully, be singing their song dedicated to the exiled Islanders. This is the beautiful, moving piece they performed at an Amnesty concert earlier in the year.

Finally, the usual requests for help :
1.Keep up the pressure on your MP and MEP.
2.Tell everyone you know about the Chagossian issue and get them involved. Don’t forget to mention our website : www.chagossupport.org.uk
3.Put the repeat of the Pilger programme “Stealing a Nation” in your diary and ask everyone else to do the same : July 21st at 11.00 in evening on ITV.
4.Let us know about any feedback you get as well as any ideas or suggestions. Recently we heard about a pen-pal relationship being set up between the pupils of an American supporter and Chagossian children in Mauritius.
5.Try to raise some funds to help towards the children’s education. Poverty needs to be made history everywhere!

With thanks for your support,

Celia Whittaker