“Not yet out of sight, not yet out of reach” Chagos themed poetry live in London this Tuesday

Posted in Benjamin Zephaniah, Cultural, Environment, events, MPA on July 31st, 2015 by Warren Paull – Be the first to comment


You can hear a reading of the poem from 7PM at Market Bar in Dalston

You can hear a reading of the poem from 7PM at Market Bar in Dalston

Saradha Soobrayen’s poem ‘Their homecoming is not yet out of reach, not yet out of sight,’ has won 1st Prize in the Pacuare Poetry Competition. The poem itself looks at the connection between environmentalism and the Chagossian fight for return, emphasising the positive and intrinsic relationship between Chagossians and their homeland.

As part of the celebrations, you can hear a live reading of the poem on Tuesday 14thJune at 7pm at the Ridley Market Bar, Dalston London. All are welcome to the event. There is a voluntary £5 suggested donation for attendance, which goes towards maintenance of the Pacure Nature Reserve.

The Judges awarded the title of Poet Laureate of the Pacure Nature Reserve for 2016 to Saradha who was born in London of Mauritian heritage. Commenting on their decision the judges praised the poem’s key winning qualities: clear and wise communication, responsiveness, and specificity in the poem’s attention. to detail and the way it linked the Chagossians deportation, the military base which replaced their society and the establishment of the controversial Marine Protected Area in 2010 especially impressed the judges:


Snippet of text from 'Not yet out of sight, not yet out of reach'

Snippet of text from ‘Not yet out of sight, not yet out of reach’


The below extract from ‘Not yet out of sight, not yet out of reach’ , considers the experience of many Chagossians who were forced from their homeland as children and into lifelong exile, leaving a legacy of displacement for future generations.


Every time he slides out a memory, a child slips back,

and boards the boat. The man considers what the child


knew then—the forced removal—the longing to return.

The Archipelago remembers him as a boy and each generation


is charged to remember the Archipelago. The past is tidal

in their minds or shall I say in their souls while the land waits


to recover the older selves, tonton, tantinn, gran-per, gran-mer,

a dying community, separated by unseen things, spirit from sea,


hope from land and yet united by wishful thinking, mouth

by mouth, their communal truths told in one continuous breath.


The winning poem is part of a book-length sequence written to raise awareness of the depopulation of the Chagos Archipelago and to attract funds to benefit the Chagossian community living in extreme difficulty in exile. Saradha plans to write 2000 lines of poetry to represent not only the 2000 islanders forcibly removed from the Chagos Archipelago but to also commemorate the lives of ancestors and those who have recently departed. Future poems will draw upon the experiences of the various Chagossian groups and their supporters, as well as on the vital contribution from historians, conservationists, anthropologists, law academics and politicians.

Through literature, art and collaborartive work, Saradha will also be exploring ways of engaging, celebrating Chagossian cultural heritage to enhance the lives of the current and future generations of Chagossians currently living in exile in Crawley, London, Manchester, Mauritius and the Seychelles.

To find out more, or to get involved you can contact us at

Visit to read the latest Chagos poems, or follow Saradha on twitter soundslikeroootshoc @saradharootschoc for news of forthcoming performances.

38th Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, Commonwealth, Diego Garcia, events, FCO, Mauritius, Parliament, resettlement, USA on October 10th, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 38th meeting on 9th October 2013.

The Group felt that the PQs  concerning the BIOT Policy Review, answered in early September, had been helpful. It was clear that the next stage was a statement by the FCO Minister to Parliament on the results of the consultation on the Review and the proposed feasibility study which was expected this month. The Group understood that it would include draft terms of reference and that thereafter experts would be invited to conduct the study. Members felt that the consultants should be  respected experts in their disciplines and of proven objectivity and independence, if the study was to be seen as balanced and transparent. The Group reiterated their wish that Parliament should be able to debate the results of the study before the summer recess in July 2014. This had been stated in the Chairman’s letter to the Foreign Secretary of 16 July on the Group’s views about the review of policy. It was agreed that the Chairman would respond to the forthcoming statement on behalf of the Group. Members asked the Chairman to remind the Foreign Secretary of his offer for a further meeting following their last meeting with him in December 2011.
The Group discussed possible interventions in debates and further PQs in the current session. The debate in the Lords on the Future of the Commonwealth on 17th October 2013 would be an opportunity, given the emphasis on human rights in the Commonwealth Charter, signed by The Queen in March, since the continued exile of the Chagossians remained inconsistent with Commonwealth values and the UK’s promotion of human rights.
Members also discussed the need for HMG to involve the Americans in potential resettlement in view of the  anticipated renewal of the 1966 UK/US Agreement in 2016. This should not wait until after the feasibility study had reported. It could be addressed in the annual round of UK/US Pol-Mil discussions usually in October. US agreement and funding, especially if resettlement were to be on Diego Garcia, should form part of the renewal of the 1966 Agreement and be discussed in 2014 when the Agreement comes up for re-negotiation.
The submission of 1st October by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) to the Ministry of Justice, concerning the UK’s failure to report on BIOT in its periodic reports to the UN Human Rights Council was considered. Members were surprised to learn that the UK had on each occasion declined to report on BIOT on the grounds that it was uninhabited, an argument repeatedly rejected by the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. They felt that the UK should be honest about its own failings with regard to human rights. They hoped that the Justice Secretary would  ensure that this omission was rectified in the forthcoming Universal Periodic Review Mid-Term report.
The Group took note of articles in the Commonwealth Law Bulletin in August (Prerogative legislation as the paradigm of bad law-making: the Chagos Islands by Ronan Cormacain) and in Ocean Challenge Summer 2013 (Sharks on the lawn at Diego Garcia – but is rising sea-level to blame? by Richard Dunne).  They also took note of the ILPA briefing, so far as it concerned the Chagos Islanders, for the debate on ‘Requirements for those who apply for UK citizenship or nationality’ in the Lords on 8 Oct, and also noted the current state of appeals to the First Tier Information Tribunal concerning the application of FOI to BIOT.
Members were pleased to learn that an international conference on the Chagos Islands had been organised by the Chagos Refugees Group in Mauritius from 29-31 October to mark their 30th anniversary and that the Coordinator would be speaking at it. They hoped that the UK, Mauritius and the US would participate.
The next meeting of the Group will be held on 20th November 2013.

Young Chagossian drummers win music award

Posted in Crawley, events on November 13th, 2011 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

The Ifield Community College Chagossian drummers have won the music award at this year’s Crawley Youth Awards.

The drummers have played music from their community to a wide audience, performing for many local charities and at community and civic events. They have performed all over the UK, including in London, Manchester and Birmingham.

They performed at Chichester Cathedral with the Ifield Community College Choir, the BBC Singers and the West Sussex Youth Orchestra, and took part in the Let the Peoples Sing choral festival, which was broadcast on BBC radio.

Chagos play at the Edinburgh Fringe

Posted in events on August 4th, 2011 by Robert Bain – 2 Comments

Bandwagon Theatre is bringing its play about the history of the Chagos islands to this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

A Rotten Little Story tells the murky tale of the secret sale by the British government of the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. In a storytelling style suitable for young teenagers and above, the play shows how, at the behest of the US government, Britain kidnapped the islanders during the 1960s and dumped them in the slums of Mauritius where many of them still struggle to survive.

The show is on from 5 to 13 August. Find out more and book tickets here.

'The fight for justice will go on until justice is won'

Posted in Ben Fogle, CCT, CICA, conservation, CRG, events, Mauritius, MPA, Philippa Gregory on May 22nd, 2011 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

An aerial view of Diego Garcia (copyright holder unknown)

The Chagos Regagné conference, held at the Royal Geographical Society on Thursday 19 May, was a landmark event that brought together conservationists, scientists, supporters, anthropologists, charities, academics, politicians and media, for the first time in the long history of campaigning.

It felt as if everyone with an interest in Chagos was there; the historian David Vine had flown in from the US just for the conference, and Chagos researcher Laura Jeffery came in from Mauritius for the day. Historic campaigner Olivier Bancoult came from Mauritius to speak and the Prime Minister of Mauritius authorised his legal representative to make a powerful public statement. For the first time Chagos people attended a conference about their future in force – about 150 people came in the coaches laid on from Crawley and from Manchester. An attentive and noisy group, they raised issues that were not on the agenda but were welcomed by the organisers. The issue of passports and compensation, and the passionate sense of urgency for the cause of return were powerfully expressed.

The conference was arranged so that every session with speakers was followed with comment, debate and questions from the floor. Chairs Sue MacGregor (of the BBC) and Professor Rebecca Stott (from Royal Holloway College, London) made sure there was as much debate as possible. Chagos people insisted on translation into Creole; Laura Jeffery served as a generous and friendly interpreter for two of the sessions.

The first debate was entitled ‘Reef Health Now’ – and scientists Mark Spalding and John Turner explained their research. Dr Spalding concluded that the reefs were a precious and delicately balanced environmental haven, but he thought that a carefully managed presence of Chagos people would not cause damage. Dr Turner presented research from Dr Charles Shepherd as well as his own work, and emphasised the importance of the Marine Protected Area (MPA) as the best preserved coral reef in the world — with others under threat from climate change, overfishing and pollution.

The second debate looked at the human presence in the MPA. David Vine reported on the history of the Chagos islands and the reasons for the expulsion of the people. He reported that the architect of the American base concept believed before he died that the indigenous people could live near the base. William Marsden of the Chagos Conservation Trust spoke in favour of the conservation work and training done. John Howell, author of a previous plan to return, reminded the conference of the practical proposal agreed by Chagos people for their return to the islands.

Before lunch, a Guardian photographer recorded the historic coming together of so many Chagos people. Paul Gardiner of the Mantis Group of Resorts opened the afternoon’s debates by talking about how he and his family and the indigenous people of the Cape area of South Africa had found the motivation and the way to reintroduce animals into a desolate area. His example suggested that indigenous people can learn and work as guardians of their own heritage. Sean Carey talked about the history of the diaspora of the Chagos people. Laura Jeffery spoke about her work to consult the Chagos people and establish their views and hopes for the future. She invited people to contact her to make sure that her work – funded by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council – reaches a wider audience so that people really know what the Chagos people hope and fear. Richard Dunne presented a stunning report on what a science station with a green eco-village might be like, what it might do and, importantly, what it might cost. In line with the best scientific advice, Richard Dunne advised the establishment of a small settlement, of perhaps 100 people, and argued that trained and motivated Chagossians might protect the valuable Chagos coral reefs better than they are being protected now.

The next session was given over to the lawyers. Philippe Sands QC delivered a statement  approved by the Prime Minister of Mauritius, presenting strong legal arguments against the creation of the MPA. He accused the UK and the US of behaving illegally, and the conservation charities who supported the MPA of being “aiders and abettors”. Sands promised a hearing at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and further action at the United Nations. This was a speech which challenged the conservationists and warned them that future decisions about the Chagos marine reserve will have to be taken in consultation with the Chagos people.

However there was a strong feeling from the floor of the conference that the Mauritian government had not supported the Chagos people historically, and some Chagos people made clear they did not want Mauritian sovereignty over Chagos. Allen Vincatassin expressed his commitment to the UK and his distrust of Mauritian motives. The High Commissioner of Mauritius, who attended the conference for the whole day, was interested and engaged by the discussion and reassured the organisers that he welcomed the open debate.

Richard Gifford, lawyer for the Chagos Refugees Group, spoke next outlining the long campaign which brought the Chagos cause to the European Court of Human Rights. He got a stormy response from the floor when people demanded swifter action, and complained bitterly about the situation regarding British passports — which some Chagossian family members have had trouble obtaining (this, of course, is not Richard Gifford’s responsibility, but the Government’s).

The final session was about agreeing the way forward. Olivier Bancoult gave a powerful speech and contributions from the floor were passionate and sustained. Conservationists reminded the conference of the importance of the natural environment. Ben Fogle, patron of this association, closed the conference with an appeal for unity and his certainty that the cause would be won. The room was then filled with the moving music of the choir of Ifield Community College singing ‘Calling my Children Home’, a fitting end to an emotional day.

Conference organiser Philippa Gregory said: “We didn’t get to an agreed conclusion but the important issues were powerfully raised in a public forum in a way which cannot be mistaken. The Chagos people spoke up and demanded compensation, fair acknowledgement of their British subject status, and the right to return. Many conservation groups represented at the conference confirmed that they had no problem with the return of a limited population to the islands and that they had no intention that the Marine Protected Status of the area would exclude Chagos people. We have a clear message to take to the Foreign Office, and I am very very pleased that even while the conference was in progress, we were offered a date to meet the Foreign Secretary. Roch Evenor, Ben and I will tell him clearly that the Chagos people will not accept the current situation and that the fight for justice will go on until justice is won.”

Fighting on

Posted in Ben Fogle, conservation, coverage, events, Philippa Gregory, Uncategorized on May 20th, 2011 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

There’s been some great coverage in the Guardian yesterday and today of the Chagos Regagné conference in London.

Today’s piece by Fred Pearce in the Environment Blog focuses on disagreements between environmentalists on allowing people back to Chagos. This, unfortunately, has become a key issue because of the way some conservationists have supported the introduction of the Chagos marine reserve while remaining quite about how it trampled on the islanders’ rights.

Two articles yesterday by Sam Jones provide a general overview of the topic and a report from the event, highlighting how the islanders remain in exile while a major military base occupies the main island, Diego Garcia.

Ben Fogle

Our patron Ben Fogle said before yesterday’s event:
“I am an optimist but I’m also a realist and I don’t see why we can’t come up with a workable, sustainable solution… Now is the time to do this.”

Hope for a return

Posted in APPG, Ben Fogle, CCT, CICA, conservation, CRG, events, Mauritius, MPA, Philippa Gregory on May 17th, 2011 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

An aerial view of Diego Garcia (copyright holder unknown)

Great piece in the Telegraph at the weekend about this Thursday’s conference on the future of the Chagos islands.


The people of Chagos have faced secrecy and deceit from successive governments. Thursday will be a great opportunity to have a proper open discussion and learn how conservation can go hand in hand with the rights of the Chagossians.

Chagos regagné

Posted in Ben Fogle, conservation, events, Philippa Gregory on May 2nd, 2011 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

A unique conference on the future of Chagos is being held in London later this month, with conservationists, politicians, anthropologists, the Chagos people themselves and their supporters invited to take part.

Roch Evenor

Roch Evenor

Chagos Regagné (Chagos Regained) will be hosted by Roch Evenor, chair of Committee Chagos and of the UK Chagos Support Association, along with patrons Ben Fogle and Philippa Gregory. It is to be held at the Royal Geographic Society on Thursday 19 May. Transport is being laid on for Chagossians living in Crawley and Manchester who want to attend.

Philippa Gregory said: “The conference is to gather current thinking on the desirability of a small eco-village, science station to house Chagos people and host visiting conservation scientists to be established on one of the outer islands. The plan is that Chagos people from all around the world would be able to visit, and some would stay on short-term contracts to work as conservators and guardians of the MPA, staffing and assisting at a science station, and patrolling. They would live in eco-houses and practise sustainable small-scale fishing and market gardening. Perhaps some of the older people would like to stay for long visits.”

Philippa Gregory

This proposal is to be considered while the Chagos people’s legal claim to return to their islands goes through the European Court of Human Rights. Philippa Gregory said: “I have such a sense of urgency for the Chagos people. Some of the older people especially want to return at once. I am hoping that the scientists and politicians will agree that this is a way that people could return immediately.”

Scientists, anthropologists, Chagos representatives and consultants will outline the possibilities and the difficulties of this plan, and delegates will be able to discuss the arguments for and against. The papers presented will form part of a briefing that will go to the Foreign Secretary William Hague, who has expressed interest. Conservationists have responded to Ben Fogle’s call for openness.

The conference will be made up of four sessions. The first will look at Chagos reef ecology now. Lead speakers will be Mark Spalding, John Turner and Bernadette Dugasse.

The second will be a debate on human impact now. Lead speakers will be John Howell and the US author and historian David Vine.

Ben Fogle

The afternoon will open with a debate about the possible future of the islands led by Richard Dunne, Sean Carey, Paul Gardiner, and a Chagos conservation volunteer. Additional information will come from the Mauritius lead legal advisor Philippe Sands and Richard Gifford of the Chagos legal team.

An open discussion will follow and Ben Fogle will close the meeting with a discussion with Sabrina Jean and other Chagos people.

Senior politicians, advisors and scientists have confirmed their attendance, some flying in to the UK specially. “I hope this will open the debate for the new government at an entirely new level,” said Philippa Gregory. “I believe that this is an opportunity for the Chagos people to work out how they can return to their islands with the support of conservationists, scientists and the British government.”

Chagos Regagné will be held at the Royal Geographic Society in London, May 19 2011, 10-4pm. Tickets are available from for £30.

A rotten little story

Posted in events on April 16th, 2011 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

Bandwagon Theatre Company are taking their play about the eviction of the Chagos islanders, A Rotten Little Story, to the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

The show will be on at Greenside Venues from 5-13 August at 12.45pm each day. To find out more visit More information and tickets will be available soon on the official Fringe site.

The play has previously toured schools, and is also on this summer at the Halliwell Theatre in Carmarthen on 9 and 12 June and at the Wexford Arts Centre in Wexford, Ireland on 14 June.

UPDATE 2/6/11: Date of Carmarthen shows (above) amended in light of comment (below).

Chagos islanders visit their homeland

Posted in events, FCO on April 2nd, 2011 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

The US air base that now occupies Diego Garcia (Photo: unknown)

A group of twelve Chagos islanders have had the chance to see their islands in a visit organised by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The 10-day trip, taking place this week and next, will take the group to Diego Garcia, Peros Banhos and Salomon, including the graveyards on Ile du Coin and Ile Boddam. It follows previous visits for groups of islanders in 2008 and 2006 – the first time that any Chagossians had been allowed to return to the islands since the eviction in the 1970s (in the meantime, numerous US servicemen, British administrative staff, support staff from other countries and yachters had been allowed to visit and live on the islands).

It’s fantastic news for those who have been able to take part. Our assistant secretary Sabrina Jean is one of those on the trip and on Monday we had a message from her saying “we are on diego wow wow”. However the vast majority of Chagossians and their descendants (there are thousands living in Mauritius, several hundred in the UK and more in the Seychelles) have not had the chance to see their homeland since they were illegally thrown off.

The government said the visit “forms part of a wider commitment to an open dialogue with the Chagossian communities”. Henry Bellingham, MP, minister for the Overseas Territories, is quoted as saying:

“I am pleased that we have arranged for a small group of Chagossians from the UK and the Seychelles to visit the British Indian Ocean Territory from 28 March to 6 April.

Although the Government will continue to contest the case brought by the Chagossians to the European Court of Human Rights on resettlement and compensation, we believe it is vital that we continue to engage with the communities and this visit is an important part of that commitment.

The Government is very keen for such visits to continue and I hope to be able to offer more visits in the future including opportunities to take part in environmental projects ongoing in the Territory.”

If we take the government’s claims of being committed to engaging with the islanders at face value, that’s a great thing. Unfortunately the coalition doesn’t have great form on the Chagos issue.

Senior Conservative and Lib Dem figures indicated before the election that they would seek to bring justice to the islanders, and Vince Cable even claimed since the election that the case against the islanders at the European Court of Human Rights would be dropped. But someone had their wires crossed, and Henry Bellingham quickly corrected Cable with the official line: that the government would continue with the New Labour policies – blocking the islanders’ right of return and supporting the Marine Protected Area, which was introduced without proper consultation, and which we now know from Wikileaks to have been used as a way of obstructing resettlement.

The small group of islanders who have been able to take part are thrilled, and the visits which have been allowed in the last few years have been among the few positive developments in the recent history of Chagos. But the islanders don’t just want to visit when the Foreign Office allows it – this is their homeland and they want the right to return.