Earlier today the Government confirmed that it would not live up to its promises to resolve the issue of Chagossians’ enforced exile before the election. In a written statement to Parliament, Minister with responsibility for British Overseas Territories James Duddridge announced a “delay” in the policy review.
We are sorely disappointed the Government has missed this perfect opportunity to deliver justice for the Chagossian people and remove a grave, deep scar on the UK’s human rights record. Since the UK ordered their forced deportation so a US military base could be built in the early seventies, a series of broken promises on compensation, housing and employment has meant Chagossians have suffered terribly in exile.
“This is another serious betrayal of the Chagossian community,” said Author and UK Chagos Support Association Secretary Philippa Gregory “Chagossians have suffered in exile for years, and it is disgraceful the Government has failed to deliver a small measure of justice by supporting return. The next Government, whoever they are, need to act urgently to rectify this failure.”
Chagos All-Party Parliamentary Group Chair Jeremy Corbyn has criticised the announcement as “kicking the issue into the long grass” and argued it is essentially the Government avoiding the responsibility to take a decision.
The reasons given by the Government for the delay-concerns about cost and demand for return- are frankly spurious. Although the consultation process with Chagossians as part of the KPMG feasibility was seriously flawed, it remains clear there is very significant demand for return. Chagossian community leaders have made this point directly and publicly on many occasions.
Certainly there would be more than enough demand across the UK, Mauritius and The Seychelles to fulfill a pilot resettlement programme of between 50-150 people; the favoured model in the KPMG feasibility report into return and of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group. Only once a resettled Chagossian society is established can greater numbers of Chagossians make an informed decision on whether they wish to return.
UK’s Foreign Office made the announcement today.
It is also quite disingenuous to claim there would be “significant” costs to the UK taxpayer. The KPMG cost estimates are widely considered overly high, but even these start at a mere £60 million over three years. Much of this would likely to be covered by US payments for the use of Diego Garcia (the current deal expires in 2016 and is being renegotiated), European Development Fund resources and private sector investment.
Any UK Government contributions would likely come from the Department of International Development budget, which is protected from cuts by law. Even the full £60 million would amount to less than 0.002% of this department’s annual budget.
For the Government deny the human rights of its citizens on the grounds of cost is in any case utterly shocking. For such small costs, it is appallingly miserly. This comes on the day the UK pledged to spend £280 million on the Falkland Islands. The UK has a responsibility to all its Overseas Territories citizens.
As it now appears this Government will fail to deliver justice, we ask all political parties and individual candidates in the upcoming election to commit anew to delivering long delayed justice for the Chagossian people. We know it can be done, and we know there is the demand.
The next Government must press ahead immediately with a properly supported return programme. Certainly improved engagement with the Chagossian community is a must, as we have argued throughout this process, but there is now a valuable, viable and unique opportunity for return which must be seized by whoever forms the UK’s next Government.
This administration has declined that opportunity to deliver justice, but the fight will continue. We encourage all to support the campaign by signing the petition and making this a real issue before election