March 2013 update

PARLIAMENT

The 35th meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group which had been scheduled to take place on March 20th was unfortunately postponed.  This was due to the budget speech taking place on the same day.  The meeting has been rescheduled for 24th April.

 

A busy month of parliamentary questions starting on 5th March with Andrew George: “To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has to enable Chagossians to return to the Chagos Islands.”

Mark Simmonds: “The European Court of Human Rights decision in December gives us the chance to take stock of our policy on the British Indian Ocean Territory. We will be as positive as possible in our engagement with Chagossian groups and all interested parties, but we should be clear there are fundamental difficulties with resettlement.”

 

6th March-  Jeremy Corbyn: “To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he expects to conclude the exercise required to take stock of the policy towards resettlement which he announced on 20 December 2012 following the European Court of Human Rights ruling on the Chagos Islanders’ case.”

Mark Simmonds: “There is no fixed timetable for the conclusion of this exercise. We want to do a thorough review of our policy and it is in everyone’s best interests that it is not rushed.”

 

11th March- Baroness Whitaker: “To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Foreign Secretary’s undertaking on 20 December 2012 to “be as positive as possible in our engagement with Chagossian groups”, and the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights on 20 December 2012, whether they will make provision for the individual fishing rights of the Chagossians and of Mauritius in the British Indian Ocean Territory marine protected area.”

 

Baroness Warsi: “We have no plans to alter the “no-take” status of the British Indian Ocean Territory, marine protected area. This is, of course, subject to the outcome of current ongoing domestic litigation and international arbitral proceedings.”

 

11th March- Lord Ashcroft: “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are the visa requirements for foreign nationals, other than members of the United States armed forces, wishing to enter the Chagos Islands.”

 

Baroness Warsi: “There is no visa regime controlling entry to British Indian Ocean Territory. Immigration rules are set out in the British Indian Ocean Territory (Immigration) Order 2004.”

 

12th March- Andrew George: “To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer of 5 March 2013, Official Report, column 904W, on Chagos Islands, when the taking stock process is expected to be complete; and when he anticipates he will be able to make a statement.”

 

Mark Simmonds: “I refer the hon. Member to my answer of 6 March 2013, Hansard, column 1018W.” (This is contained under the question from Jeremy Corbyn on 6th March)

 

12th March- Andrew George: “To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer of 5 March 2013, Official Report, column 904W, on Chagos Islands, what he has identified as the fundamental difficulties with resettlement; and if he will discuss those matters with interested stakeholder groups and the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group.”

 

Mark Simmonds: “The fundamental difficulties are numerous. Any long-term settlement would be precarious and very costly. The outer islands, which have been uninhabited for 40 years, are low-lying and lack all basic facilities and infrastructure. The cost of infrastructure and public services could become a heavy ongoing contingent liability for the UK tax-payer. There are also defence considerations.

 

As we have made clear in various PQs this year we will be positive in our engagement with all interested stakeholders.”

 

13th March- Jeremy Corbyn:  “To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the reply on 6 March 2013, whether this is the review that he indicated would take place in June 2010; and if he will meet the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group to discuss the options being considered by the review.”

 

Mark Simmonds: “No, this review follows the European Court of Human Rights decision of December 2012. As the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), said in his letter of 24 February to the hon. Member, he would be happy to meet the All-Party Parliamentary Group later in the year when the Government has made progress with the review.”

 

19th March- Andrew George: “To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer of 5 March 2013, Official Report, column 904W, on Chagos Islands, whether his commitment of 20 December 2012 to take stock of the UK’s policy towards the resettlement of 3,107 British Indian Ocean Territory residents has in any way changed in the intervening period.”
Mark Simmonds: “There has been no change in our commitment to review our policy on the British Indian Ocean Territory.”

 

20th March- Lord Avebury: “To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the remarks by the Foreign Secretary on 20 December 2012, what are the fundamental difficulties they envisage with resettlement in the Chagos Islands; and when they will appoint a date for meeting the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group so that the views of that group can be taken into account in their stocktaking of their policy on resettlement.”
Baroness Warsi: “The fundamental difficulties are numerous. Any long-term settlement would be precarious and very costly. The outer islands, which have been uninhabited for 40 years, are low-lying and lack all basic facilities and infrastructure. The cost of infrastructure and public services could become a heavy ongoing contingent liability for the UK taxpayer. There are also defence considerations. As the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right honourable friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), said in his letter of 24 February to the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group, he would be happy to meet the group later in the year when the Government has made progress with the review.”
20th March 2013- Barry Gardiner ( Labour): “To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what regulations have been passed to designate the marine protected area declared around the British Indian Ocean Territory.”
Mark Simmonds: “The Marine Protected Area was proclaimed on 1 April 2010. Marine protection is enforced by existing legislation. We hope that legislation to implement further the marine protected area will be enacted soon. This will be subject to the decision of the High Court, which is currently considering a judicial review challenging aspects of the consultation of the British Indian Ocean Territory marine protected area.”

20th March 2013- Barry Gardiner: “To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the need for further legal underpinning of the marine protected area declared in the British Indian Ocean Territory.”
Mark Simmonds: “We hope that legislation to implement further the Marine Protected Area will be enacted soon. This will be subject to the decision of the High Court, which is currently considering a judicial review challenging aspects of the consultation of the British Indian Ocean Territory marine protected area.”

20th March 2013- Barry Gardiner: “To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he plans to bring forward any further legislative proposals or regulations designating the marine protected area in the British Indian Ocean Territory in 2013.”
Mark Simmonds: “We hope that legislation to further implement the marine protected area will be enacted soon. This will be subject to the decision of the High Court, which is currently considering a judicial review challenging aspects of the consultation of the British Indian Ocean Territory marine protected area.”

20th March 2013- Barry Gardiner: “To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make all the legislation concerning the British Indian Ocean Territory available for public access online.”
Mark Simmonds: “The British Indian Ocean Territory Government plans to launch a website later this year and all current legislation will be placed on the website for public access.”

13th March 2013- Oral intervention – Lord Eden’s Question on MPAs,

Baroness Whitaker: “My Lords, can the Minister confirm that most marine protection areas benefit very much from the original inhabitants living there and helping to look after it, unlike those of the Chagos Islands, whose disgraceful exile means that they can play no part?”

 

Lord de Mauley (Whip, House of Lords; Conservative): “My Lords, I would not want to criticise what other countries are doing, but I agree with the noble Baroness about the protection that these zones can give to the species and habitats that we are seeking to protect.”

 

FOOTBALL POSTPONEMENT

Due to unseasonal weather conditions, the much anticipated rematch between Chagos Islands and Sealand was sadly postponed.  A new date will be announced later in the year.

 

The promotional interview conducted last month and which was broadcast on Talksport Radio and featured Paul Watson has now been uploaded to YouTube and can be found here

 

FALKLANDS REFERENDUM

Earlier this month, all but three voters decided in favour of the Falkland Islanders remaining British.  The result drew strong reaction from both London and Buenos Aries.  Naturally Chagossian supporters were quick to highlight the contradictions with the Chagos Islanders who’ve never been afforded the luxury of determining their own future.

 

New APPG member John Prescott returned to the issue again, the second time in his Sunday Mirror column in as many months.  On March 3rd shortly before the Falklands referendum was held, he was lobbying the new US Secretary of State John Kerry to encourage the British government to allow Chagossians the right to decide on the future of their islands:

 

“During his UK visit Mr. Kerry refused to be drawn on the Falkland Islands referendum, but I hope he considers the Chagos Islands.

 

You’ll remember I highlighted in this column that in the 1960s a Labour government and the US chose to expel up to 2,000 islanders so they could give the Diego Garcia atoll to the Americans as a military airbase. This lease is up for renewal in 2014 and these people must have a referendum on whether they want to go home. Even the UN is looking into the situation.”

 

The angle was also picked up elsewhere in the media too.  Russia Today’s Sara Firth produced a very eye catching report which attracted global attention and was broadcast the day the Falklands referendum result was announced.  The segment included interviews with Ginette Charles and Bernard Nourrice and was coordinated with the help of Sabrina Jean. 

 

“Britain’s refusal to give the Chagossians a choice is outrageous, Nourrice told RT.

‘You hear the British government talking in the news about human rights and justice, but they are the ones that manipulate the justice,’ said Nourrice.

 

In 1982 Britain went to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands after the Argentinian government took the territory by force.  The British government drained vast sums of money to recover control of the territory and protect the rights of the islanders, at the exact same time Britain was also using extensive resources preventing the Chagossians from returning home.”

 

In the Guardian Seumas Milne also highlighted the double standards and picked up on the argument previously sited by John Pilger regarding the skin colour of the Chagossians.  Milne suggested when comparing the treatment of the Chagossians and Falklanders it appeared “there are different rules, it seems, for white people.”

 

CHAGOS ROAD UNVEILED ON REUNION ISLAND

The north-west Reunionais town of Le Port was the scene for a very special event earlier this month.  A road was renamed “Avenue des Chagos” in honour of the Chagossian struggle for justice, and the area was suitably decorated to mark the occasion.  This French island is located 120 miles west of Mauritius; it made the gesture to demonstrate its solidarity with the exiled islanders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAGOSSIAN SCHOOL AWARDS CEREMONY

Sabrina Jean was in Mauritius last month and has kindly shared some pictures from her visit.

This included a British Council sponsored awards ceremony for Chagossian schoolchildren where Chagos Refugees Group leader Olivier Bancoult formed part of the presentation party.

 

 

 

The qualification was administered by the University of Cambridge ESOL examinations board and everyone at the association extends our warmest congratulations to all involved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

LETTERS

Trevor Walshaw wrote to the Independent recently pointing out that Britain was not in a position to criticise the Argentinean refusal to recognise the Falkland Islanders’ recent referendum because “we are still preventing the indigenous population of the Chagos Islands from returning to their homeland.”

 

Charlie Watson submitted his letter to the Guardian newspaper recently too.  “Whilst William Hague considers the ‘humanitarian need’ of the Syrian rebels is so great ‘you have to do something’ (International, 4th March) he might also like to consider the humanitarian need of 2000 British subjects who, since they were deported from their homeland of Diego Garcia in the 1960s and 70s to make way for the American Air Force base, have been forced to live in deprivation and poverty ever since.

 

This shameful episode has been going on now for over 40 years with the Chargossians prevented from returning to their homeland, or even another one of the islands in the Chagos Archipelago.

 

A ‘humanitarian need’ of our own Government’s making. Surely, Mr Hague, now is the time when ‘you have to do something’.”

 

The English Parliamentary Party’s Gerald Morgan writes:

 

“If, according to David Cameron, Argentina must respect the wishes of the Falkland Islanders (1513 for to 4 against the British connection), then David Cameron by the same token must respect the wishes of the Chagos Islanders. Otherwise he is just another cruel British racist and imperialist. British hypocrisy, wrapped up in moral platitudes, is simply sickening. Let David Cameron go to Crawley and ask the Chagossians in exile there what their wishes are.”

 

Another supporter has also voiced her concerns and asked why the Minister for Overseas Territories, Mark Simmonds, has chosen so far only to meet the leader of the smallest Chagossian organisation.

 

It’s indeed a question which puzzles many of us at the Association too.

 

She has also submitted her own message to Prime Minister David Cameron using the Number 10 website, and suggested we encourage other supporters to do likewise.  Her communication read:

 

“Delighted to hear you say, Prime Minister, that ‘we believe in self-determination…’after the ballot in the Falkland Islands. When can we expect to hear you extend this basic human right to the exiled Chagos Islanders?”

 

JUDICIAL REVIEW OF THE MPA

The High Court in London will hear the Judicial Review into the Marine Protected Area (MPA) brought by the Chagos Islanders from 15th-18th April. This will be the first time that the Foreign Office officials will be cross-examined in relation to what they told the US Embassy concerning their reasoning behind the MPA.  Colin Roberts, infamous for his deeply offensive quip about “Man Fridays”, will be questioned on the opening day of the hearing.  Supporters are invited to come along to show their support for the islanders.

 

UK CHAGOS SUPPORT ASSOCIATION ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING (AGM)

We are pleased to confirm that the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the UK Chagos Support Association will take place on Sunday 21st April at 2pm.  This will once again be taking place in the function room of the Pimlico branch of Pizza Express.  The address is as follows:

 

46 Moreton Street

Pimlico, London

SW1V 2PB

 

All supporters of the exiled Chagossian community are welcome.  Please can you let us know if you wish to attend as it will give us an idea of the numbers.

 

PETITION

We recently passed the 700 mark and are of course still seeking more signatures.  The petition as usual can be found here: http://bit.ly/LLvt4P