May 2010 update

  • The new Conservative MP for Crawley, Henry Smith, has pledged to support the islanders in their struggle for justice, and has joined the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Chagos. Smith used his maiden speech in the House of Commons on 27 May to highlight the Chagossians’ plight and pledge his support. Here’s what he said:

    I want to mention one special community that has come to live in Crawley. I mentioned that many people have chosen to settle there from around the country and around the world. Citizens of the Chagos Islands, particularly of Diego Garcia, were exiled from their home islands in the late 1960s. A decision was made by Order in Council—it did not come to this place, which I think was quite wrong—to make way for an airbase on Diego Garcia, which meant that those people were deported from their home island against their will, and they had to live in relative poverty in Mauritius and the Seychelles. Seven years ago, they started to arrive at Gatwick airport and they have been very successful in making Crawley their home. There is now a population of nearly 2,000 Chagossian and Diego Garcian people and their descendants in Crawley. I look forward to arguing on behalf of those people, during my time as Member of Parliament for Crawley, that they have a human right to return to their islands should they so wish, either to visit or to live there permanently. I believe that, having been removed in quite a shameful way, they should be allowed to claim that human right. It is an honour to be given the opportunity to speak on their behalf in my maiden speech.

  • Three different Chagossian groups have come together to form the Comite Chagos, to represent all Chagossian interests. The Chagos Refugees Group, the Chagos Island Community Association and the Seychelles Chagos Group will all take part. Roch Evenor (who is chair of this association) is chair, with Marie-France Bheeka as secretary, Christophe Laviol as treasurer, Joseph Bertrand as assistant treasurer, Hengride Permal and Sabrina Jean as liaison people and other executive members including Bernadette Dugasse, Adeline Jaffar and Gianni Augustin.
  • Hengride Permal of the Chagos Island Community Association spoke at the University of Ulster in Belfast on 27 April, to bring awareness of the Chagossians’ struggle to students there. The turnout was reported to be good and one of the university professors is now looking to organise a similar event to take place in Dublin.
  • The Mauritian High Commissioner to London, Abhimanu Mahendra Kundasamy, gave an interview to ReConnect Africa, published on 16 April, in which he speaks in favour of resettlement, and criticises the UK government’s unilateral decision “to impose a Marine Protection Area around the Chagos archipelago without addressing the issue of sovereignty and resettlement”.
  • Press coverage of the MPA has highlighted that, while it’s great news for the fish, the government has been disingenusous in claiming that’s all there is to it. A piece by Gwynne Dyer in Vancouver’s Straight.com said: “The British Foreign Office insists that the two issues are entirely separate: they’re just trying to save the fish. But the technical term is “fools” for those who believe what the Foreign Office says.”

    A Guardian article on 12 April said: “Of course it is wonderful that our government has created a marine reserve around the Chagos archipelago. It is also an act of stupendous colonial arrogance. What right have we to issue rulings about somewhere thousands of miles away? The exiled Chagos islanders will rightly say, ‘start with your own waters’.”