Phillip Hammond

Chagos Islands: The ‘point of return’ beckons for Chagosians

Posted in APPG, Ben Fogle, Benjamin Zephaniah, CCT, CRG, Diego Garcia, EU, FCO, Feasability Study, Labour, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, Philippa Gregory, Phillip Hammond, resettlement, UN, USA, William Hague on February 9th, 2015 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

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Over four decades ago, citizens of the picturesque Indian Ocean archipelago of Chagos were tricked or forcibly removed from their land by the UK to make way for a US military base following a secret deal between the two countries. The suffering of the forcibly exiled Chagossians, and their fight to return home is well documented. Now a new report brings hope their ordeal could soon be over. Dr Sean Carey finds out how.

Feasability Study Delay

Posted in Philippa Gregory, Phillip Hammond, resettlement on November 26th, 2014 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

The Government-commissioned feasibility study into Chagossian return to their homeland has encountered what have been described as “slight” delays. KPMG officials, who have been tasked with carrying out the study, have confirmed that owing to analysis “taking longer to complete than expected” the draft report scheduled to be circulated last week has not yet been finalised.

Explaining the revised schedule, KPMG stated that following the circulation of the draft report, which the professional services firm have assured us will happen “very shortly,” meetings with Chagossian communities around the world, including Crawly and Manchester, would be carried out in December and early January.

It is not clear if this delay will lead a corresponding delay in the political decision making process. The Government have committed to resolving the issue before the next election (in May 2015) but had been expected to reach a decision considerably earlier. The window of opportunity for Chagossians to evaluate, react to and campaign on the feasibility report was already very narrow.

In reaction to the delay, Author Philippa Gregory, our patron and current Vice-Chair, commented that she was “sorry but not surprised.” Reflecting widespread concerns amongst Chagossians about the way KPMG carried out the study, she noted that “when KPMG met the Chagossian communities in Mauritius, the Seychelles and the UK they were unprepared for the strength of feeling and the extent of mistrust fostered by years of deceit and injustice.”

Ms Gregory also identified causes for optimism, however, noting that the plan to return to the communities to discuss the report may be suggestive that “at least some sort of return will be proposed.” Issuing a rallying call to all those sympathetic to the Chagossian cause she added that “all of us who support the Chagossian community must help ensure their voices are heard and that they get the best result possible.”

Certainly regardless of the content of the report, it is crucial all those who wish to see the Chagossian people finally win some measure of justice are as vocal as possible in demanding the UK Government meaningfully support resettlement.

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44th Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, CCT, Diego Garcia, FCO, Parliament, Phillip Hammond, resettlement, USA on October 16th, 2014 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 44th meeting on 15 October.

As the new Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Minister for Overseas Territories (OTs), James Duddridge, had felt that he was not yet ready to meet the Group Prof. Charles Sheppard, Chairman of the Chagos Conservation Trust and his colleagues Alistair Gammell and John Turner, who had requested a meeting in July, attended the first part of the meeting.

The Vice Chairman (Henry Smith MP standing in for Jeremy Corbyn MP) welcomed the representatives of the Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT) and looked forward to hearing about its work. The conservation and environmental aspects of resettlement were discussed. Members were pleased to note that while the CCT mandate was to protect the unique environment of the Chagos Islands, CCT was not opposed to resettlement. Prof. Sheppard and his colleagues thought that Diego Garcia was well suited and ecologically sensible, given the available facilities and infrastructure there, though this was a decision for politicians. Members drew attention to the benefits of resettlement for conservation and the types of employment that Chagossians could undertake, especially on Diego Garcia. They agreed to keep in touch with CCT.

The Group then went on to discuss the Parliamentary Questions (PQs) and Questions since the last meeting on 15 July. Members noted that on 4 September Mr Duddridge had said in reply to a PQ that “he expected officials to begin substantive discussions with US colleagues about post-2016 arrangements later this year, as the conclusions of the feasibility study on resettlement of Chagossians begin to become clear”. It was also noted that in a letter in mid August to the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) Mr Duddridge had stated that “The 1966 Exchange of Notes provides for a two-year window (December 2014-December 2016) during which we can decide whether and on what terms to extend the agreement with the US for a further 20 years. We are clear that we will consider all aspects of US presence in any discussions on this, and the Government will of course reinforce our expectations on permitted US use of the territory.” The Group felt that US co-operation and assistance in resettlement was necessary and an obvious condition for extending the agreement. The Group would engage the FAC on the renewal of the 1966 agreement.

As KPMG’s September report was received just prior to the meeting it was not possible to consider it in detail. However the Group was pleased to learn that KPMG would submit a first draft of their study to the FCO in mid November which would be circulated to “stakeholders” the following week. Members reiterated that they expected Parliament to debate the study before Ministers made decisions on it.

Members considered the Chairman’s letters, on behalf of the APPG, to the new Foreign Secretary and to Mark Simmonds, then Minister for OTs. It was decided to renew the invitation to Mr Duddridge (successor to Mr Simmonds) to meet the Group at its next meeting.

Legal developments were considered. It was noted that the decision of the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) that Environmental Information Regulations applied to BIOT by virtue of the extension of English law to BIOT in 1983, had not been appealed by the FCO. The Group saw this as significant progress for freedom of information. This would facilitate the work of researchers making requests for environmental information held by FCO/BIOT. The Group was also informed of the decision to grant legal aid to the Chagos Refugees Group in pursuit of their claim to the Supreme Court that the House of Lords majority verdict in 2008 had resulted from an apparent breach of the duty of candour by officials.

The next meeting will be on 3 December.