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.

NPR on Chagossian fight for return

Posted in coverage, Exile, Feasability Study, Parliament, resettlement, Return, Return 2015, USA on April 17th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

grave pictureNPR, a major radio broadcaster in the USA, has released a major feature on the exile of the Chagossian people and their fight to return home. Broadcast today (Friday 17th April), the piece, put together by London-based Ari Shapiro, was split across two separate programmes.

The first section was broadcast on Morning Edition, and can be heard here. (see below if audio link has stopped working) It is an excellent, short summary of both the history and recent struggles of the Chagossian people. With the radio interview comes a full and similarly excellent text article written by Mr Shapiro.

The second part of the feature was broadcast later on All Things Considered, and can be heard here. This section focuses more on Chagossians’ hopes for the future.

Both are worth listening to and reading, featuring interviews with native-born Chagossians Bernard Nourrice and Louis Clifford Volfrin. Chagos Refugee Group UK Branch Chairperson Sabrina Jean also speaks eloquently about her brief time on Diego Garcia, whilst All-Party Parliamentary Group Chairperson Jeremy Corbyn and former High Commissioner to Mauritius David Snoxell analyse the strange, often dark political realities of Chagossians’ exile and their fight for return.

Just in case NPR cease to host the audio files after a few days/weeks/years, we’ve saved them here.

Listen to Part 1 here

And Part 2 Here!

“Why Chagos Islanders Should Be Hailed as Heroes” Irish Times on Chagos Marine Reserve Verdict

Posted in coverage, Mauritius, MPA, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on April 16th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

irishWriting in the Irish Times, journalist Eamon McCann today (16th April) published an article assessing the potential impact of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA) verdict that the UK had acted illegally in creating a Marine Protected Area around the Chagos Islands in 2010. The article primarily focuses on the impact for exiled Chagossians.

Much of the piece details the decades of abuse, depiction and suffering underwent by Chagossians in exile. The controversial circumstances of the creation of the Marine Protected Area, as analysed by the PCA judges, are also noted.

Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Edna Kenny: Calls for Ireland to stand up for Chagossian rights

Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Edna Kenny: Calls for Ireland to stand up for Chagossian rights

The article concludes with Mr McCann urging the Irish Government to join with other nations to pressure the UK and US into finally end decades human rights abuse. These are certainly the type of sentiments we’d like to see more of from journalists across the world.

Our own view is that it is as-of-yet unclear what impact the PCA verdict will have on Chagossians’ fight to return home.A Government- commissioned feasibility study in return has found that Chagossian return could be successful with little or no alteration to the Marine Protected Area (MPA). The future of the Marine Protected Area should not then have a direct impact on Chagossian return. As noted in the feasibility study, Chagossians are in any case “very committed” to protecting the environment of their homeland.

We would though urge the incoming UK Government to finally deal with the nation’s long-neglected responsibilities to Chagossians and the Chagos Islands fully, transparently and honestly.

 

Chagossian Justice Pledge Card: Ask want-to-be MPs to sign!

Posted in Campaign, Election 2015, Letusreturn, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on April 13th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
Click to see a printable version of our pledge card

Click to see a printable version of our pledge card

As the UK Election campaign proceeds apace, if you live anywhere in the UK there’s a good chance someone will be stopping you shortly and asking for your vote.

In return, you can ask them to sign this pledge card. It states that

It is a simple affair you can print off and get your perspective MPs to sign. Please do let us know if you get any responses, negative or positive. Do also keep a hold of the card so we can hold those elected to account! To find out who is standing in your constituency, check here, it just takes a second.

If you don’t have the pledge card to hand, just grab a piece of paper and scribble down something like the above phrase. What is important is simply getting on-the-record commitment from would-be Parliamentarians to support Chagossian justice.

We need to tell Parliamentarians this is an issue which matters to ordinary people, and that we will not let this human rights abuse continue in our name.

Support Chagos Petition Hand In and Protest! 22nd May

Posted in Ben Fogle, Campaign, coverage, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on April 12th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

chagos protest 1Long-time Chagossian supporter and TV Presenter Ben Fogle will on 22nd May hand in this Avaaz petition demanding that the Chagossian people’s right to return home is finally respected. The petition will officially be handed in at 10 Downing Street at 12:30 on Friday 22nd May.

Chagossians and their supporters will be outside, however, to show support from 10:30AM through to around 3PM. We invite you all to join us!

Organising a protest is not, however, cheap. We need to pay for transportation costs, create promotional materials and get the word out to as many people as possible. So we can send a strong message to whoever forms the next Government, please consider donating to our fighting fund. We have a £500 target but any and all of your donations will be much appreciated and make a real difference.

 

Story of Chagossian Exile in The Independent

Posted in coverage, Crawley, Exile, Welfare on April 11th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

chagosMuralUC_5The cold, hard reality of life in exile for Chagossians is laid bare in a new article published by UK newspaper The Independent.  Bernard and Willie Nourrice provide real testimony of the struggle Chagossians have faced to survive since their forced expulsion from their homeland in the late sixties and early seventies.

Bernard recalls how he was “left on the dock” in The Seychelles, forced to find a new life almost 2000KM from the land of his birth. Sadly coming to the UK in 2008, after losing his hotel job in the financial crisis, he found no end to the pain of exile.

“Reaching here, the situation is not what I was told. It’s so painful; we go through so many difficulties….the stress is killing people. On Diego Garcia we were free. Here we are not.” Bernard Norrice

 

Later in the article Chagos Refugee Group UK Branch Chairperson Sabrina Jean expands upon the difficulties facing the UK Chagossian community in exile. She recounts her own experience, separated from her family and working 17-hour days when she first arrived in the UK. The older, native born Chagossians, dying without a chance to see their homeland again, are also mentioned as a source of sadness. The practical, financial difficulties of finding funds for funerals are another real concern and mentioned in the article.

“When one of our people passes away it’s very difficult for us.” Sabrina Jean

 

We consider all requests from UK Chagossians experiencing hardship in exile, including helping with funeral costs. See here for how to ask for help.

Diego Garcia Flight Record Publication Delay

Posted in coverage, Diego Garcia, Rendition, USA on April 8th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
US warplanes in Diego Garcia

US warplanes in Diego Garcia

Human Rights legal charity Reprieve have released a statement accusing the Government of “stalling” over their request to publish complete flight logs of arrivals and departures from the US military base on Diego Garcia.

Reprieve’s attention was drawn to Diego Garcia following consistent allegations that the base was used to support ‘rendition’ flights and torture, most recently raised by former senior Bush-administration Lawrence Wilkerson.

Reprieve report that following their official request for the records over 8 months ago, they were recently informed the Government was still “assessing their suitability for publication.” The Government has continued to deny that Diego Garcia has had any role in supporting rendition, with the exception of two cases in 2003 which were acknowledged in 2008 by then Foreign Secretary David Miliband having previously been denied.

Donald Campbell, a representative from the organisation, stated that:

“It is hard to see how such a long delay could be justified. We need to see full publication of those records without delay, in order to reassure the public that Britain is not involved in the cover-up of torture evidence.”

The failure to publish these records has also been picked up by VICE News and Sputnik News.

The reports also feature previous controversy concerning Diego Garcia flight records. Last year in which the Government first claimed certain records were water damaged, before stating this was a mistake and no relevant data had been lost.

Our Thoughts

This delay immediately follows another Government’s ‘delay’ in deciding upon support for Chagossian resettlement of their homeland. Regardless of the truth of these rendition allegations, the native people of Diego Garcia were forced from their homes so this military base could exist. The human rights of Chagossians must also feature in any discussion about Diego Garcia.

Although the coalition Government initially took the positive step of setting up a feasibility study into return, their legacy will be one of inaction. We urge the next Government, whoever they may be, to act urgently and engage fully with the growing concerns of UK citizens on their nation’s treatment of the Chagos Islands and their people.

“Chagos Islanders Betrayed” Observer Article on Government’s failure to deliver justice

Posted in coverage, Election 2015, Letusreturn, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on April 5th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
Click on the image to read the full article

Click on the image to read the full article

There is a major new article in this morning’s Observer on the Government’s failure to deliver a promised decison on Chagossian right to return home prior to the election. Quoting our Secretary and Patron Philippa Gregory’s initial reaction, the piece records that this is “another serious betrayal of the Chagossian community.” It also rightly notes that another of our Patrons, Ben Fogle, is to hand in this petition next month (22nd May) as part of a protest by Chagossians calling for their right to return home to finally be restored.

Voluntary Coordinator of the Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group David Snoxell is also quoted as saying the failure of the Government was “a lack of political courage.” Our own argument, that claims UK taxpayers would be liable for the full costs of resettlement are “disingenuous,” is also noted.

Just to clarify, we do not believe KPMG’s estimate is “disingenuous” (although many have suggested that it is overly high, and a recent freedom of information request confirmed even KPMG officials believed it a “pessimistic” figure). Rather we argue costs could be largely covered by income associated with the expected renewal of an agreement on the Diego Garcia US military base in 2016, European Development Fund resources and private sector investment.

Elsewhere in the article, Chair of the Chagos Conservation Trust Charles Sheppard rightly states “the Chagos marine biodiversity and condition are a valuable international asset.” As the Chagos Conservation Trust website clearly states, however, a returned Chagossian society can be entirely compatible with conservation efforts, and the Trust itself has no position on the Chagossian people’s return. One of the Trust’s senior members also confirmed their belief Chagossian return could be achieved with minimal environmental impact in a recent short film.

If you are as deeply disappointed as the Chagossian people, please do consider supporting their protest in Westminster on 22nd May. We’ll be telling the next Prime Minister, whoever they are, that this failure must be rectified as a matter of real urgency.

Economist Article analyses Government failures on Chagos issue

Posted in coverage, Letusreturn, Parliament, Return, Return 2015 on April 4th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

COMMASSThis week an article in The Economist provided a concise summary of the UK Government’s failures to deliver justice for the Chagossian people, both this year and the last several decades.  The piece begins by noting the Government had “quietly avoided” dealing with the issue. Click on the link above to read: a short piece, it is a good one to share to explain Chagossians’ fight for justice.

 

“[Diego Garcia] is home to more than 3,000 troops and support staff who, according to a navy website, enjoy “a unique assortment of quality of life opportunities”. The majority of Chagossians remained in Mauritius and the Seychelles, often living in abject poverty”

Featuring comments from Chagossian leader Allen Vincatassin and Chagos Islands All-Party Group Coordinator, the article provides plenty of evidence a returned and renewed Chagossian society could be successful. Chagossians arrival in the UK in the early part of the last decade is also recounted, as it is recalled how Chagossians, British citizens, were mistaken for asylum seekers as they were forced to sleep at Gatwick Airport.

 

“Mr Vincatassin sees the moral cost of inaction as outweighing the financial ones. “In the next 40 to 50 years there won’t be any Chagossians left,” he says. “The government will make them extinct.””

A Chance for Chagos: New Short Film

Posted in coverage, Letusreturn, Return, Return 2015, video on April 4th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

A Chance for Chagos is an excellent short film produced by Emily Wakefield. In consultation with various members of the Chagossian community, Ms Wakefield’s piece looks at just why this is the perfect time to implement return.

Speaking with Chagossian leaders, politicians and members of conservation group the Chagos Trust, it becomes clear there are no significant barriers to return.

The Government may have failed to deliver justice prior to the election, but this piece makes clear the case for return remains compelling.