resettlement

“Steady Progress” on Government work on Chagossian return

Posted in FCO, Feasability Study, Henry Smith, Parliament, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on July 31st, 2015 by Warren Paull – Be the first to comment

henry smithConservative MP Henry Smith, Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands, has asked the Government when they plan to make a decision on the resettlement of the Islands. Earlier this year an independent feasibility study proved that resettlement of the Chagos Islands was possible, a fact acknowledged this week in a letter from Minister for Overseas Territories James Duddridge. Mr Smith is the MP for Crawley, home to largest Chagossian population in the UK.

In the question, copied in below, Mr Smith asks for an update on when the Government will make their promised decision on supporting Chagossian return to their homeland. In his response, Minister Tobias Ellwood claimed that “steady progress” was being made on additional work the Government chose to undertake on the potential for resettlement after the publication of the report. No timeframe was, however, set out.

The question in full

Henry Smith MP: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, when he plans to announce the Government’s decision on possible resettlement of the British Indian Ocean Territory by Chagos Islanders.

Answered on: 22 July 2015

Tobias Ellwood, Foreign Office Minister : The member for Crawley will note from the written answer of 23 June 2015 (British Indian Ocean Territory: Written question – 2386) given by my honourable friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge MP), that steady progress is being made on the further analysis of resettlement of BIOT. There is no date yet when an announcement on possible resettlement will be made.

All-Party Parliamentary Group on Chagos Islands Release Statement on 50th Meeting

Posted in APPG, FCO, Feasability Study, Mauritius, resettlement, Return on July 31st, 2015 by Warren Paull – Be the first to comment

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands has marked their 50th meeting by releasing a statement reflecting on their work thus far and the challenges to come.

The group, founded by Labour Leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrat peer Lord Avebury, has worked since 2008 to finally resolve the injustices suffered by Chagossians. All-Party Parliamentary Groups are collections of MPs and peers from across party lines who come together to work on a specific issue.

In the statement, available in full below, the Group reflect that although progress has been slow, there have been significant developments. Looking to the future, the Group noted that the “further work” on the cost of and demand for Chagossian return promised by the Foreign Office was expected to take place over the summer.

A caution was though also issued to the Government, as the group warned that important decisions should not be taken in the summer recess as it is vital that Parliament is consulted on this issue.

 

Statement by the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group, 15 July 2015

APPGcThe Group held its fiftieth meeting on 15 July. Its first meeting had been on 16 December 2008. Members decided to mark the occasion by issuing a statement on the progress made, since the first meeting, towards bringing about a resolution of the issues concerning the future of the Chagossians and of the Chagos Islands.

The Group was formed in response to the House of Lords 3:2 majority verdict of October 2008 which ruled that the 2004 Orders in Council that had deprived the Chagossians of their right of abode were lawful. The Group was pleased to note that on 22 June the Supreme Court considered an application to set aside that judgment on the grounds that it was based on a false premise and a flawed resettlement study in 2002. Judgment is expected soon.

Members reflected on the last six and a half years and the progress that had been made in three Parliaments towards restoring justice and the right of return and abode. There had been numerous Questions, interventions, debates and Early Day Motions in both Houses. At its second meeting in January 2009 the Group agreed objectives which included “A truly independent study of the practicalities of resettlement which was transparent and drawn up in consultation with the Chagossians and other interested parties”. This had been achieved.

Members were pleased that the Coalition Government had agreed to a new feasibility study in 2013 which was completed by KPMG in 2014 and published in February 2015. That study had shown there to be no legal or environmental reasons why resettlement should not be achieved. The Group looked forward to the implementation of the study following the further work on costs and take-up commissioned by the FCO. They expected this to be decided by the autumn. Members were concerned that decisions should not be taken during the summer recess and that Parliament should be consulted.

Another of the 2009 objective was “Discussions with Mauritius on the future sovereignty of the Outer Islands so that this question is resolved before 2016 when the UK/US fifty year agreement comes up for renewal”. Members hoped that following the Award to Mauritius by the UNCLOS Arbitral Tribunal in March, and bearing in mind the judgments of two of the five judges supporting the Mauritian case on sovereignty, the FCO would be charged with taking forward these discussions as soon as possible.

A third objective was “Re-negotiation of the Agreement with the US to reflect the right of the Chagossians to live on the Outer Islands and any changes to the sovereignty of those Islands”. While noting that resettlement on Diego Garcia, as recommended by KPMG, now seemed the best option, Members expected these issues to be part of the negotiations leading to the renewal of the Agreement in December 2016.

The Group noted that its final objective had been “HMG to apologise for the fundamental breach of human rights that the Chagossian people have suffered over four decades and to offer reparations”.

University of Greenwich Chagos Socio-Legal Conference

Posted in Campaign, coverage, Cultural, Environment, Exile, FCO, Legal, MPA, Parliament, resettlement, Return, Return 2015, Supreme Court, UN, Uncategorized on July 1st, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
University of Greenwich, host of Monday's Chagos conference

University of Greenwich, host of Monday’s Chagos conference

On Monday a host of academics, legal experts and Chagossians came together to discuss a broad range of legal and social issues related to Chagossians enforced exile. Hosted by the Law School of the University of Greenwich, it featured prominent lawyer Phillipe Sands as keynote speaker.

Mr Sands QC has recently worked with the Mauritian Government to successfully convince an international tribunal that the UK-Government’s establishment of a Marine Protected Area in 2010 breached international law.  Analysing how race inevitably played a part in legal processes in the UK involving Chagossians, Mr Sands quoted Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird:

“in our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins. They’re ugly, but those are the facts of life.”

A range of other speakers also delivered powerful addresses. Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group Coordinator David Snoxell spoke about the interplay of Parliament and the courts in the Chagossian fight for the right to return to the islands. He begins his talk by describing three “myths” of the Chagossian deportation. Later dealing with the 2004 use of Orders-in-Council (Royal Perogative) to forbid Chagossian return to the islands, he brands the move a “short sighted ploy.” Mr Snoxell’s full remarks can be read here.

Elsewhere, University of Greenwich Post-Graduate student Kinnari Bhatt presented a equally insightful address on the concept of Chagossians status as an “indigenous” people. Apologists for Chagossians’ forced exile have often argued they did not qualify for indigenous status as the islands were first populated in the 1700s. Ms Bhatt contends this idea that only a people living in a land from “time immemorial” can be called ‘indigenous’ is a flawed, eurocentric concept. A summary of her full paper of Chagossian indigenous identity can be read here.

As well as new pieces of writing, the conference was an opportunity to discuss previously published legal and political documents relating to Chagossians’ exile. As well the infamous Wikileaks revelations that the 2010 creation of the Chagos Marine Protected Area was at least in part an attempt to prevent Chagossian resettlement of their homeland, an African Union resolution from earlier this month which reiterated the group’s support for Mauritian sovereignty over the Islands.

As we get more written notes and summaries we plan to update this page so do check back for more detail in a week or so. We’ll let you know via Facebook and Twitter, so make sure you’re following us (click on the links to do so if you are not!).

Letter to the Telegraph: End "distressing" exile of Chagossians

Posted in coverage, Letusreturn, resettlement, Return, Return 2015, Supreme Court, Uncategorized on June 29th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
Mr Davies letter was published in 26th June 2015

Mr Davies letter was published in 26th June 2015

One of our long-term supporters Sid Davies last week had a letter published in The Daily Telegraph calling for a definitive end to the shameful UK-enforced exile of Chagossians.

Mr Davies’s letter is a beautifully written, poignant and personal account of his encounter with the islands. He visited the islands as part of yachting journey in the 1980s and describes the “distressing” sight of abandoned houses and churches. You can read it in full below.

Letter to the Telegraph by Sid Davies

SIR – I am pleased that Amal Clooney is to represent the Chagos islanders, who were forcibly evicted from their homes when the island of Diego Garcia was leased to the Americans as an airbase.

In 1985, I called at Saloman Atoll, which is about 100 miles north of Diego, when crossing by yacht from Darwin to Aden. The abandoned houses and roofless church, together with the overgrown pathways were distressing to see. It is to our shame that we treated these islanders so cruelly and it is high time we made amends and repatriated them.

While I was there, a yacht arrived from the Maldives, crewed by a French couple. They had called previously and found that the abandoned hens had no cock among them, so they brought one across the ocean to bring joy to the lonely poultry.

Sid Davies
Bramhall, Cheshire

There is no legal or climatic reason why the Chagos Islanders should not return home – so why won't the UK Government act?

Posted in APPG, Exile, Feasability Study, Jeremy Corbyn, Lord Prescott, Mauritius, resettlement, Seychelles, Uncategorized on June 11th, 2015 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

parliamentThis was the title of a letter from the British Indian Ocean Territories All Party Parliamentary Group published in the Times on 9th June 2015. A copy of the letter can be downloaded here or viewed below.

 

 

 

This letter was signed by all current members of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group

This letter was signed by all current members of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group

"UK has a moral duty to Let Us Return" Chagossian Allen Vincatassin on Sputnik

Posted in Campaign, coverage, Exile, FCO, Feasability Study, Letusreturn, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on May 30th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

Chagossian Allen Vincatassin, elected President of a Chagossian Provisional Government in 2011, has called on the UK to finally deliver justice for the Chagossian people by supporting their return home. Speaking on RT current affairs programme Sputnik to George Galloway, Mr Vincatassin highlighted the “moral duty” of the UK Government to Chagossians following their forced deportation four decades previously.

AV and GGMr Vincatassin has recently published Flight to Freedom, a book about the history of the Chagossian people in exile, which you can buy here.

Citing the recent independent feasibility study completed by KPMG, Mr Vincatassin explained that there were “no obstacles” to supporting return and he called for a pilot resettlement on Diego Garcia to begin as soon as possible. Urgency was required, he added, simply because time was running out for the native-born Chagossians to see their homeland again. He also makes the point that Chagossians, as British citizens, are entitled to expect their Government to actively defend their human rights.

Analysing the prospects of winning return, Mr Vincatassin was positive and identified the next year as a great opportunity for the UK and US to end the exile of the Chagossian people. Noting constitutional changes expected in the UK and upcoming renegotiation of the  US-UK agreement on the use of Diego Garcia, he concluded that the Government just “need to invest” a modest amount of finally deliver justice for the much abused and neglected Chagossian people.

"No reasons left not to support return" Our Chair's interview with IOO

Posted in Campaign, coverage, Exile, Feasability Study, Letusreturn, Mauritius, resettlement, Return, Return 2015, Seychelles on May 26th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

chagos 22In a wide-ranging interview our Committee Chair Stefan Donnelly has discussed the campaign for Chagossian justice with Indian Ocean Observatory (IOO). The online publication focuses on geo-political and environmental issues affecting the Indian Ocean Region. In an interview conducted via email, Stefan explains the history of the Chagossian exile and where the campaign for return stands now.

The full interview can be read here.

i Newspaper Article & Other Media Coverage of Chagos Return Protest

Posted in Ben Fogle, Campaign, coverage, Letusreturn, Protest, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on May 24th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
See below for a detailed summary of the article

See below for a detailed summary of the article

One of the many heartening things about Friday’s (22nd May) protest and petition hand-in was the media attention it received. The latest we’ve noticed is the pictured right short article in the i newspaper.

Although not currently available online, we’ve put together a detailed summary of the article below. Credit for the piece goes to Press Association Journalist Richard Wheeler who attended the protest on Friday.

 

i Article: “Fogle: I’ll take Islanders to Chagos”

Ben Fogle says he will charter a boat and take exiled Chagossians back to their homeland if the Government refuses “to right a terrible, terrible wrong.” The presenter also suggested the Whitehall attitude to the Chagos Islands- still a British controlled Overseas Territory- struck him “as a form of racism when compared to the help that has been given to the Falkland Islands.

He led a Chagossian delegation into Downing Street to deliver a petition calling on the Prime Minister to make amends for the “crime against humanity” carried out by allowing Chagossians to resettle as soon as possible.

The British forced the Chagossians to leave the islands, in the central Indian Ocean in the late sixties and early seventies to allow a US military base to be built on Diego Garcia, the largest Chagos Island.

The media in attendance at the 22nd May protest

The media in attendance at the 22nd May protest

Other media outlets covering the protest included BBC, RT, the i newspaper, BT’s Online News Service (important as it is likely to be seen by the millions who use BT to connect to the internet or for email), Asian Image and The Argus.

If you see any further articles in the Sunday papers, do please let us know at ukchagos@gmail.com

House of Commons Library Briefing on the Chagos Islands

Posted in APPG, Feasability Study, House of Commons Library, Letusreturn, MPA, Parliament, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on May 14th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

hoclThe House of Commons Library, an independent research body based in Parliament which aims to provide unbaised information to MPs and peers, has published an updated briefing on policy issues affecting the Chagos Islands. The briefing covers the period since the publication of the previous Houses of Commons Library Report on the Chagos Islands in mid-2013.

Following the delay of the decision on supporting return, promised by the Government prior to the election, the current Parliament will now take the decision on whether to support Chagossian return to their homeland. Ensuring MPs have accurate information about the situation is then vital and Parliamentarians are likely to consult this document. We will of course also be briefing MPs about how they can deliver Chagossian justice.

The document covers a range of issues including the feasibility report and decision on return, the international legal action on the Chagos Islands Marine Protected Area and the sovereignty dispute with Mauritius. It is well worth a read but you can find some of the key quotes from it below.

 

On Return and the recent KPMG feasibility study:

The report notes it is “significant” that Diego Garcia was included in the study as it had previously been “believed that the US would not want the island, where it has a military base, included.” It is worth noting the US has not expressed this desire and has always maintained the issue was a matter for the UK, which retains sovereignty over the Chagos Islands. In any case with the conditions of the UK-US agreement on the use of Diego Garcia being re-negotiated, it is incumbent upon the UK to insist that support for Chagossian return is a fundamental condition of any renewed agreement to allow continued US military presence.

“Because of its position on sovereignty, the Mauritian Government declined to engage with the new feasibility study on resettlement, although it supports the Chagossians on the issue.”

The Government claim that “was not a clear indication of likely demand for resettlement, and costs and liabilities to the UK taxpayer” are referenced, as our Chair’s critique of this decision. 

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands’ proposal of a small-scale “pilot return” which could be begin in 2016 is also noted.

“But it is possible that the incoming UK Government will ultimately reject all the resettlement options put forward in the KPMG study.” This could, but need not, mean denying support for return. The KPMG study focused on three fairly arbitrary resettlement models. Return could also be feasible following a range of other models.

On the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s Verdict on the Chagos Islands Marine Protected Area

“an Arbitral Tribunal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea unanimously ruled that the Marine Protected Area (MPA) declared by the UK [around the Chagos Islands in 2010] is not compatible with obligations under the Convention to give proper regard to the rights of Mauritius and is therefore not lawful. The unanimous ruling was issued on 18 March. It is final and binding.”

 

“There is evidence that, when it was established, FCO officials saw the MPA as a means of preventing Chagossian resettlement. To date, there has been no official British response to the Arbitral Tribunal’s ruling.” Perhaps it does not qualify as an ‘offical response’ but a Foreign Office Spokesperson did respond to the judgement speaking to a Guardian journalist. In fact the spokesperson, rather baselessly, claimed the judgement proved there was ‘no improper motive’ for establishing the MPA so it is good to have independent acknowledgement this was not what the judgement stated.

On Sovereignty

“It has been argued in the past that, even if sovereignty over the entire BIOT is unlikely to be on the agenda in the near to medium-term, there may be more room for flexibility on the outer islands, which are not required for defence purposes. But the previous UK Government gave no indication that it might be thinking along those lines.”

 

On the future of US military facilities on Diego Garcia

“Under the 1966 Exchange of Notes between the UK and the US, a decision on whether to extend the arrangement for a further 20 years must be made by 31 December 2016.”

“The All Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands considers that any renewal next year of the 1966 UK/US Agreement on the use of BIOT for defence purposes should be conditional on a commitment by both parties to facilitate and support [Chagossian] resettlement.”

 

On upcoming legal action

“Chagossians living in both Mauritius and the UK have also been seeking to challenge the establishment of the MPA. The original ground was that the public consultation process was flawed because it failed to acknowledge that resettlement was feasible. An additional ground was that the consultation failed to mention Mauritian or Chagossian fishing rights.”

“Finally, an application to the Supreme Court to set aside the 2008 House of Lords verdict – which ruled 3:2 that the use of Orders in Council in 2004 to prevent the Chagossians from returning was lawful ….was made in January 2015. The grounds for the application are that the 2008 judgment was partly based on the 2002 feasibility study, which has now been shown to be flawed, and that documents which demonstrated this were not disclosed…. The Supreme Court is expected to consider both applications by the end of June 2015.” Now scheduled for 22nd June

Our Committee Chair's Open Democracy Article on Chance for Return

Posted in Campaign, coverage, Election 2015, Letusreturn, resettlement, Return, Return 2015, Uncategorized on April 20th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

Our Committee Chair Stefan Donnelly has had an article published on Open Democracy analysing the previous Government’s failure to deliver a decision on Chagossian return and the unique opportunity the next Government has to rectify that failure. You can read the piece below, or on the Open Democracy website.

 

dg boat‘Regret’ and ‘delay’: when will Britain end the exile of the Chagossian people?

Britain, perhaps unsurprisingly, remains stubbornly centre-stage in the growing UK election campaign rhetoric. Announcing the budget, the Chancellor told us Britain could again “walk tall in the world.” Ed Miliband frequently suggests “Britain can do better.” The other parties have their own variations on pledges to make the nation fair, respected and honourable.

And yet just before parliament concluded at the end of March, an opportunity to end decades of continuing human rights abuse, which mars Britain’s reputation globally, was quietly missed. To put it more starkly, a choice was made to continue enforcing the exile of the Chagossian people.

A lengthy, dark chapter

Chagossians, UK citizens were forced from their homeland in late sixties and early seventies under UK orders. Deportation of the native population was a condition of a deal which gave the US military use of Diego Garcia, the largest Chagos Island, for a fifty year period.

Various government ministers have expressed “regret” over the deportation, the deliberate attempt to mischaracterise native Chagossians as migrant workers and their appalling neglect in exile. Very little though has actually been done to address Chagossians’ key demand: the right to return home.

It has been argued that the US-UK agreement on the use of Diego Garcia expressly forbade resettlement of the island. This deal, however, expires in 2016. There is no better time than right now to offer justice to Chagossians and end a lengthy, dark chapter in both nations’ histories.

Hope was offered when the government announced it would commission a feasibility study into Chagossian resettlement. When consultants KPMG published their final report this January hopes were raised further. The report demonstrated costs and environmental impact would be minimal, whilst no serious security or legal concerns were identified.

In reaction to the report the government commissioned a “policy review.” Days prior Parliament’s dissolution, however, a “delay” was announced in a three-sentence written statement.

No timescale was given for the delay. Two “uncertainties,” of cost and demand were held up as justification, but neither stand up to serious scrutiny. Parliament in any case had no opportunity to scrutinise, whilst the media by and large chose not do to so. But let’s consider them now.

Costs

Infrastructure projects inevitably have “uncertainties” over costs, but the in-depth KPMG study found resettlement could be accomplished for as little as £60m over three years. A recent freedom of information request confirmed that, if anything, KPMG regarded these estimates as made with “pessimism.”

Even if the full amount was taken from the UK’s International Development budget, the £20m per year to support return would only amount to less than 0.002% of overall spending, from a budget protected by law. In practice though, a range of other sources would contribute.

If the US-UK agreement on using Diego Garcia as a military base is renewed, it seems obvious that support for Chagossian resettlement must be a fundamental condition. Adjusted for inflation, the £11 million discount the UK received on the Polaris Nuclear Weapon system as part of the original agreement would be worth almost £200 million today.

The EU’s European Development Fund is another likely source of funding, whilst private and third-sector investment would be a significant factor.

Demand

Claims on “uncertainty” over the numbers wishing to return seem even more bizarre. It is highly difficult for Chagossians to make an informed decision on return when the Government has given absolutely no indication of the type of resettlement they’d be willing to support.

Despite this, however, at least 100 Chagossians have already volunteered to return as part of a small-scale “pilot” resettlement project to Diego Garcia.  This is the option favoured by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands and is assessed favourably in the KPMG report.

An even greater number of Chagossians, including those based in the UK, Mauritius and the Seychelles have indicated they would like to return if the initial resettlement programme proves successful.

Political uncertainties, a real opportunity

The only “uncertainties”, then, emanate from the political establishment. Does any political leader have the moral conviction and political courage to finally deliver a measure of justice for Chagossians? Will the new intake of parliamentarians be dogged enough to hold the government to account on an issue far too often neglected by administrations of all colours?

Although the delay is most unwelcome, the election does provide an opportunity to ask these questions directly and meaningfully. UK Chagos Support Association is asking everyone standing for election to sign a simple pledge card, stating their commitment to ending almost half a century of human rights abuse which should shame the nation.

It takes actions, not words, for Britain to “walk tall” or “do better.” There can be no more excuses. If rhetoric about British values is to mean anything at all, supporting Chagossians long-denied right to return home must be an absolute priority for whatever Government is formed after 7th May.

On the 22nd May Chagossians and their supporters will be protesting in Westminster and handing in a petition to whoever is the new Prime Minister. You can add your signature here and support the protest here.