May 2006 update

  • The exiled Chagossians’ visit to their ancestral lands finally took place in March – April, and went well. There were emotional scenes when the group of 100 set off from Port Louis, Mauritius, with about 1000 people gathered to see them leave. The visit received massive coverage in Mauritius where the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG) office was turned into a studio for a live radio event on March 29.

    On the ten day journey they visited Diego Garcia and several of the outer islands where they tended to the graves of their ancestors and visited the homes, churches and graveyards they were forced to abandon. They were deeply saddened by the state of their old homes. They erected monuments on each island to commemorate their visit and paid tribute to their families who are buried there. Whilst on Diego Garcia, they saw the base and the heavy bombers but did not speak to any Americans.

    CRG leader Olivier Bancoult said: “We maintain our objective of returning to live in our birthplace. We think justice must be done but this first visit was very successful.”

  • Don McKinnon, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, made this statement of support:
    “I warmly welcome the first return visit by people of the Chagos archipelago to the islands, over 30 years since their removal from their homes and lands. No doubt many will visit the graves of their families and ancestors. This should be only the first step – more regular visits should be organized in the future so that the people of the Chagos islands remain in contact with their homes and identities.
    During my last visit to Mauritius in January 2005, I had the opportunity to meet with representatives of the Chagos community there and was concerned by their situation. Many are living in poverty, and long to return to their island homes.
    The Commonwealth has actively encouraged Mauritius and the United Kingdom to work together to resolve both this humanitarian issue of access to their island homes, and also the legal claims to sovereignty over the Chagos archipelago. There is a long distance to travel on both paths, but this voyage is a sign of goodwill and hope, on which all sides need to build.”

  • Back here in Britain we are still waiting for the judgement on the islanders’ appeal against the Orders in Council that banned them from returning in 2004.

  • Sadly in the USA a federal appeals court decided last month that it is powerless to grant compensation to Chagossians forced from their homes to establish the US military base on Diego Garcia, because this would be “meddling in foreign affairs beyond its institutional competence”. If the judges cannot point out when their government is doing wrong both morally and within the terms of the UN Convention on Human Rights, we wonder who can.

  • A medallion found by a diver in the Chagos archipelago in the late 70s was returned to the Chagossians in March. Pierre Prosper, leader of the Seychelles Chagossians, met in London with Michael J Harper, who found the item while on a diving expedition to the Chagos islands in 1978-79. The oval brass medallion bears an image of Christ and an inscription in French: “I will bless the houses where the image of my heart is displayed and honored.”
    Michael is also trying to track down the 32,000 slides and movie film that he believes still exist from the expedition.

  • The Foreign Affairs Committee will soon be deciding what items it will cover in the autumn. This is an excellent time to contact your MP and ask them to get the Committee to review the treatment the Chagossians have received over the years at the hands of British governments. It would be a good idea to also mention that the Ascension islanders are getting pretty badly treated at the moment by Lord Triesman and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.