November 2009 update

  • The Chagos Refugee Group in Mauritius reports that a group of 18 Chagossians visited the Chagos islands to mark All Saints’ Day, following meetings with the British High Commissioner in Mauritius and ministers in London. They set off from Mauritius on 27 October, travelling to the islands via Singapore, and taken from there to Diego Garcia by US military aircraft. They returned on 7 November. Ten visited Diego Garcia and the remaining eight visited Peros Banhos and Salomon islands. While there they paid respects to ancestors’ graves, and took records of graves that have fallen into disrepair over the years and need to be tended to. The group consists mainly of elderly people for whom this could be the last chance to visit their homeland.

  • From the Chagos All Party Parliamentary Group:
    Parliament having resumed on Monday, the Chagos Islands APPG held its 8th meeting on Tuesday 13 October. The next meeting and AGM will be held in W2 on 24 November at 2pm – the Group was established on 16 December 2008.

    The Group reviewed developments since the last meeting in July. They expressed disappointment that the FCO had not consulted the Group before sending their Observations, during the Recess, to Strasbourg (ECtHR), despite several PQs and an EDM asking them to do so, but noted that the Minister, Baroness Kinnock, had now placed the Observations in the Library of the House at the request of Lord Avebury. The deadline for receipt of a further submission from the Chagossian side had been extended to 23 October. The Group decided to invite Baroness Kinnock (now the Minister for Africa/Indian Ocean) to a meeting, as soon as convenient to her; also the Chairman would liaise with William Hague about a date for meeting the Group. The Group discussed possibilities in the new session for short debates and interventions in both Houses on Chagos. It was noted that the next round of talks between the FCO and Mauritius would take place this month.

    The Coordinator reported on a visit by the Mauritius APPG, from 21-29 July, to Mauritius during which they met Olivier Bancoult and visited the area where the Chagossians live. Paul Goodman, a member of that delegation, had offered to meet the Group and this would be arranged. The Coordinator also reported on the current lobbying visit to Washington which included Olivier Bancoult. They had met Members of Congress and the Chair and Secretary of the Black Caucus who expressed determination to take up the Chagossian cause with the Administration, now much more sympathetic to the Chagossians. The APPG Chairman said he would also make contact with the Secretary of the Black Caucus.

    The Coordinator reported on a meeting he had just had with a Consultant to the Pew Foundation which is promoting the creation of a Marine Protected Area for the Chagos Archipelago. The 5-6 August workshop on the proposed Chagos MPA, held at the National Oceanographic Centre, Southampton University was discussed. The letter from two leading marine biologists, who had withdrawn from the event because the organisers had declined to take account of the human dimension, was circulated. The Group expressed the hope that in a follow-up meeting this would be rectified and Chagossians or their representatives invited. The Chairman said he would be happy to address the next workshop.

  • A response from 10 Downing Street to an online petition calling for the islanders to be allowed to return to their homeland without delay:

    The Government has stated on many occasions its regret at the way the resettlement of the Chagossians was carried out in the 1960s and 1970s and at the hardship that followed. We do not seek to justify those actions nor seek to excuse the conduct of an earlier generation.

    The judgment given by the Law Lords on 22 October 2008 means that the two Orders in Council made for the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) in 2004 stand, and provide that no person has a right of abode in BIOT or the right to enter the Territory unless authorised. The Government has no plans, therefore, to resettle the Chagossians in the Territory.

    It is worth noting that the UK Courts have previously ruled that fair compensation has been paid to the Chagossians and that the UK has no legal obligation to pay any further compensation; and that British citizenship was granted to a large number of Chagossians under the British Overseas Territories Act 2002.

    Not an unexpected response but still very disappointing. As one supporter remarked “They certainly get full marks for endless repetition of the same tired lines….some might call it consistency!” Repeating their “regrets” about what happened in the past is pretty pointless unless action is taken to correct the situation and restore the Chagossians right to return. The Lords verdict was 3:2 – had there been seven or nine Law Lords sitting, as there now frequently is for Supreme Court hearings, the case could well have been won by the Chagossians.

  • On 30th October the Times published this letter from David Snoxell pointing out a serious inaccuracy in the government’s statement:

    To an e-petition, signed by 870 people, including several parliamentarians, which asked the Prime Minister to allow the Chagos Islanders to return to their homeland, Mr Brown replied on Oct 26 that the Government had no plans to resettle the Chagossians in the territory. The reply claimed that “the UK courts have previously ruled that fair compensation has been paid
    to the Chagossians”. But the courts did not rule that fair compensation had been paid, only that further compensation was time-barred. All courts were highly critical of the way in which the Chagossians were expelled from their homeland.

    On compensation, Judge Ouseley said in 2003: “Many were given nothing for years but a callous separation from their homes, belongings and way of life and a terrible journey to privation and hardship”. In 2004 Lord Justice Sedley noted: “They [the Chagossians] have not gone without compensation, but what they have received has done little to repair the wrecking of their families and communities, to restore their self-respect or to make amends for the underhand official conduct.” In October 2008 the law lords took the same view.

    In a recently published letter to President Obama, Jean-Marie Le Clezio, the 2008 Nobel prizewinner for Literature, appealed on behalf of the Chagossians, concluding that to allow them to return would not be an act of charity but of justice.

    David Snoxell
    British High Commissioner to Mauritius, 2000-04, and co-ordinator of the Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group

    David Snoxell refers (above) to a very interesting letter which appeared in Le Monde on 17th October. Press TV reported it thus:

    Nobel Prize winner asks Obama to help Chagossians
    The 2008 Nobel Literature Prize winner Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio has asked Barack Obama to help Chagossians return to their homeland.

    In a letter to the Nobel-peace-prize-wining US president, the French-Mauritian writer asked Obama to authorize the return of Chagossians to Diego Garcia, L’ reported.
    The Chagossian people were the inhabitants of Diego Garcia, Peros Banhos and Salomon Islands, as well as other parts of the Chagos Archipelago, like Egmont and Eagle Islands.
    Mostly of an African heritage, Chagossians were brought by the French from Mauritius as slaves in 1786.

    “I would draw your attention to an injustice that has lasted forty years. I mean the deportation of the Chagossian people,” reads the letter published in the French newspaper Le Monde on Oct. 17, 2009.

    “These unfortunates were forced to abandon their homes and their property to live in dire conditions in exile. Those who refused to obey the militia removing them were threatened,” Le Clézio wrote in his letter.

    Leader of the Chagos Refugees Grou,p Olivier Bancoul,t said he was very touched by Le Clezio’s initiative, adding that Obama could bring change to the Chagossian situation.

  • Other press coverage recently included an article by Glyn Ford, a former Labour MEP and Richard Gifford, Chagossian solicitor, in Tribune magazine on 16th October. “The Chagossians are continuing their fight after being cheated of their birthright”.

    The Mauritius Times, 23rd October printed a lengthy correspondence between a UK citizen, his MP and the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. In order to read this, type Mauritius Times 23rd October 2009 Chagos – Miliband defends the indefensible into your search engine.

  • David Vine’s book “Island of Shame” has been reviewed and featured worldwide. A comics journalist and graphic novel writing instructor at Stanford University in California heard David talk in Berkeley and was inspired by him, and the John Pilger film, to do a piece of work which movingly sums up “the tragic and horrendous treatment of the Chagossians by the UK and US governments.”

  • News from the Seychelles Chagossian group in London:
    The 31st October 2009 dawned to be a miserable day; wet, windy and cold. But that did not dampen the spirit of around 15 or so Chagossians/descendants from the Seychelles who are now settled in the UK, trying to make a better life for themselves.

    They met in a hall in Croydon for a pot-luck. The menu ranged from curried chicken gizzards, chicken curry in coconut milk, grilled mackerel, salted fish ‘rougay’, eggplant and pawpaw chutney. It was all accompanied by some nice local brew, for the strong ones of course. It was a very warm atmosphere as everybody chatted about their experience in the UK. Those who made the visit to the Chagos in 2006 shared their moments there. The day could not end without dancing to some traditional music. The party broke up at around 6pm, as everybody had to find their way back to Crawley or around Croydon in the dark. But the Chagossians spirit remains alight, despite every obstacle that may come their way.

    As readers know, we welcome and value all who are interested in helping and supporting the Chagossians. Amongst our most recent contacts are the grand-daughter of a Mauritian sailor whose first shipboard job was on a trader that sailed between Mauritius and Diego Garcia in the 1920s. She has his diary entries about sailing that passage which piqued her curiosity about the islands. She is horrified at the fate of the islanders.

    Another contact in South Africa tells how her grandparents house on Diego Garcia was taken over by the army during the war and used as a base. Her mother would dearly love to go back and visit her old home – she has photos of her it which she obviously treasures. The whole family have a passionate interest in the whole Chagos issue.

    Yet another contact was from a Senior Youth Theatre Group which is conducting research with a view to developing a piece of responsive political theatre to be performed next year.

  • A letter has been received from Dr Caroline Lucas MEP (Green Party) who continues to support the rights of Chagossians in the European Parliament. She “will continue to do her utmost to press the EU to play a role in resolving the situation and holding the UK to account.”

  • We recently published a letter from Dr. George Beckmann to David Cameron in which he suggested that “Justice for the Chagossians” be included in the party manifesto for the next election. He has received this reply:
    “I am writing on behalf of David Cameron to thank you for your letter…
    We are grateful to you for taking the time and trouble to get in touch and we take on board the points you make in your letter regarding the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands.
    I am passing a copy of your letter to our Shadow Foreign Minister, David Lidington so he is aware of your concerns.”

    I am sure Mr. Cameron would be grateful to hear from all of us – please write. The address is Office of the Leader of the Opposition, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA

  • Message from UKCSA chair Ann Stewart:
    “There is a second generation Diego Garcian family in the Lewisham area of London who are in difficulties. The father has a British passport. I went to visit them last weekend and they were most hospitable. I have had two offers already to assist them but more help is needed especially if you can do some of these things: find your way around red tape, be assertive, advocate, teach English as a second language, cook, budget or generally welcome them and work with them until they are settled.”

  • Another request for help:
    UKCSA has been given a large number of used spectacles which will be of use to the Chagossians in Mauritius but we have been told that, whoever we mail them to, will have to pay 15% VAT even though they are a gift and that they will also need an import permit as they are second hand. Can anyone offer any advice on this?

  • Date for your diary:
    On 21 November ,this association will have a stall at the sixth Bradford Peace and Crafts Fair. This will be in the Victoria Hall, Saltaire, Shipley from 10.00am to 4.00pm. UKCSA Treasurer, Sylvia Boyes, and Celia Whittaker, would be pleased to meet you.