Philippa Gregory

Chagossians on “shaky ground”: Seychelles News Agency

Posted in coverage, Diego Garcia, Mauritius, MPA, Philippa Gregory, resettlement, Return, Seychelles, UN on March 27th, 2015 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Diego_Garcia_Abandoned_PlantationA new report from Seychelles News Agency highlights the uncertainty felt by Chagossians after a turbulent week. On Wednesday the UK Government refused to live up to their promise to decide on supporting Chagossian return before the election. Earlier in the week the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) judged that the UK had acted illegally in creating a Marine Protected Area around the Chagos Islands in 2010.

Although the PCA decision has been reported as a positive development for Chagossians, the Seychelles News Agency quotes Chairperson of the Chagossian Committee in the Seychelles Gilberte Grendron arguing it remains “quite unclear” what the consequences are for Chagossians.

The PCA case was really about Mauritian sovereignty, not Chagossian rights, she notes. Ms Grendron also adds there are concerns about what would happen to Chagossians’ UK citizenship if their homeland became Mauritian territory. Although she acknowledges the verdict of the PCA was probably correct, Ms Grendron adds that there are worries that with significant alteration to the MPA the environment of their homeland could be damaged.

Ms Grendron is entirely right to raise these concerns. If we did not already know already, one thing we should have learned in recent weeks is that Chagossian politics is extremely complex.

Elsewhere in the article our reaction to the Government’s failure to support Chagossian return is referenced, with a quote from our Patron and Secretary Philippa Gregory.

“Chagossians have waited more than forty years for justice, there should be no delay now.” Our response to Government Statement on Chagossian Return

Posted in APPG, Ben Fogle, Benjamin Zephaniah, Campaign, coverage, Diego Garcia, FCO, Feasability Study, Philippa Gregory, resettlement on February 10th, 2015 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

Earlier today (10th February) the Government made a statement announcing the publication of the Foreign Office-commissioned KPMG report into the feasibility of Chagossian resettlement of their homeland. Our initial reaction is broadly positive and can be read below. The

Foreign Office Statement is cautious; but clear return is possible

Foreign Office Statement is cautious; but clear return is possible

Government’s statement, which announces the beginning of a “policy review,” can be read in full here.

The UK Chagos Support Association very much welcomes KPMG’s report into the feasability of Chagossian return to their homeland and its conclusion that there are no practical, security or environmental obstacles to resettlement. The Government’s confirmation that it will now engage in a serious and thorough policy review is also welcome.

The indication that the unique history of the Chagossian people will be a primary factor in this policy review is especially pleasing. The forced deportation of Chagossians and their neglect in exile by successive administrations places an unavoidable moral obligation on the UK Government to deliver justice to a much abused community.

The report rightly recongises any resettlement programme is complex, but it also demonstrates that there are no challenges to return which can not be overcome with appropriate planning and management.

Buildings like this beautiful church could soon see life again

Buildings like this beautiful church could soon see life again

We understand the Government’s concern that disproportionate costs should not fall on UK taxpayers. We are confident, however, that by efficiently managing processes, utilising a wide variety of funding sources and exploring income generating opportunities, Chagossian return can be delivered with extremely minimal cost to UK citizens.

Upon receiving the report, UK Chagos Support Association Patron and Novelist Philippa Gregory also reacted positivity, commenting;

“I am so pleased that KPMG has consulted the Chagossians as to their future and suggested ways that they could return to their rightful homeland at last. The Chagossians have waited more than forty years for justice, there should be no delay now.”

“While there is work to do on the detail of return, the Government can agree to the principle at once and make a commitment to these people who have been cruelly exiled for too long. The older people want to see their homeland before they die and the younger people are eager to make a start on their new lives. I urge the Foreign Office to make a commitment to return now.”

We accordingly look forward to working with the Chagossian community, Government officials and other stakeholders to develop and deliver a practical resettlement project in the near . Recognition of wider concerns of the Chagossian people beyond resettlement is also highly welcome and it is only right these are addressed simultaneously with central aim of return.

If you have any further queries about this issue do not hesitate to get in touch. Contact details can be found in the ‘contact us’ tab in the top left.

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

chagos

 

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.

Reaction to Feasability Study into Chagossian Return

Posted in Feasability Study, Philippa Gregory, resettlement, Uncategorized on December 2nd, 2014 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Late last week KPMG, working on behalf of the UK Government, published a draft version of their feasibility report (read it here) into Chagossian resettlement of the Chagos Islands. The Government have claimed that this will inform their decision on whether to permit and support resettlement of the Chagos Islands. This decision is expected next year, with the final version of the report due in early January.

The whole Chagossian community will take time to analyse and respond to the report; many of its assertions are questionable and there are notable concerns about the overall approach. KPMG and the UK Government have however pledged that Chagossian groups will have the opportunity to meet with report stakeholders and the discuss the text prior to final publication.

Although Chagossians have had serious concerns about the way in which the feasibility study has been conducted, we are pleased to see confirmation that a well-managed, environmentally-aware resettlement is entirely feasible.

That the report acknowledges Chagossians are “very environmentally conscious” and “would be willing to play an active part in maintaining the pristine environment of the Chagos Islands” is especially welcome.

The report, even though it does not explore the potential for a vibrant, resettled Chagossian economy, demonstrates justice for Chagossians can be achieved at a minimal cost to UK taxpayers. Resettlement be achieved for less than £65 million over three years, or around 0.002% of the UK’s annual Overseas Aid Budget. Or to put it another way, less than 20 pence per year for every UK citizen, which would help to hear a terrible scar on the nation’s character.

In the coming days and weeks we will analyse the report further and look forward to meeting officials from the study team and other stakeholders to discuss its contents.

Commenting after reading the report, renowned author and UK Chagos Support Association Patron Philippa Gregory stated that  “I welcome the prospect of justice at last for the Chagossians and hope we get a speedy final report and can begin the implementation of return.”

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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43rd Meeting and AGM of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, conservation, FCO, Philippa Gregory, USA on July 24th, 2014 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 6th Annual General Meeting (AGM) and 43rd meeting on 15 July 2014. The meeting which was to have taken place prior to the AGM with the FCO Minister Mark Simmonds MP, was postponed at the last minute due to the arrival at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of the new Foreign Secretary.

The Group re-elected the current office holders (Chairman Jeremy Corbyn; Vice-Chairs Lord Avebury, Lord Ramsbotham, Andrew Rosindell MP, Henry Smith MP; Secretary Andrew George MP). David Snoxell was re-appointed Coordinator and Richard Gifford Legal Adviser – the Group thanked them for their continuing support and service to the Group.

Parliamentary Questions (PQs) and Questions which had been answered since the Group’s last meeting on 5 June were considered. Members were surprised to learn that the Government received no revenues from the sales of .io domains and noted that this had been contradicted by the International Computer Bureau (ICB) Chief. Lord Avebury had tabled a further Question on the financial arrangements with the ICB.

The Group discussed the KPMG monthly reports for May and June on the progress of the feasibility study. They were concerned that the initial consultations with the Chagossians in Mauritius, Seychelles and Crawley did not appear to have gone well and that this could lead to delay. They urged both the FCO and KPMG to ensure that the grievances and aspirations of Chagossians were considered as well as the technical aspects of the conditions in which some would want to resettle permanently in the Islands. Members did not feel that to proceed by way of questionnaires was the best way forward. The Group took note that in answer to a PQ Mr Simmonds had said that the feasibility study should be complete by early January 2015. Members were of the view that the study, including the extension of the 1966 UK/US Agreement on the use of BIOT, should be debated in Parliament before Ministers made final decisions on resettlement.

A request from Prof Charles Sheppard, Chairman of CCT and his colleagues to make a presentation to the Group on the conservation aspects was agreed – their last presentation to the Group had been in December 2010. Also at her request a meeting with Dr Philippa Gregory would be arranged.

The next meeting of the Group will be on 15 October 2014, preceded by the postponed meeting with Mr Simmonds, if available.

32nd Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, ConDem, conservation, FCO, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, Philippa Gregory, USA on December 6th, 2012 by Mark Fitzsimons – 2 Comments

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 32nd meeting on 5 December 2012. The Chairman welcomed a new member, Henry Bellingham MP who is the fifth former FCO Minister with responsibility for BIOT or the Indian Ocean to have joined the Group.

Members considered legal developments since the last meeting on 17 October. They noted that the Judicial Review of the MPA had been postponed to March to allow the FCO more time to prepare their case, in view of additional pleadings agreed by judges on 13 November, concerning traditional fishing rights and the requirement under the EU Treaty for social and economic development of the OTs. The Group also discussed the Mauritius case at ITLOS which would be heard by a Tribunal next July. Until these cases were resolved it was difficult to see how the MPA ,declared on 1 April 2010, could progress. The Group discussed ways in which these issues might be resolved through diplomacy and compromise, such as providing Mauritius with a role in the MPA and the Chagosians with a designated fishing zone, as is provided for the Pitcairn fishermen in the forthcoming Pitcairn marine reserve.

The Group also considered the implications of the Information Commissioner’s Decision that the BIOT Administration was subject to FOIA and EIRs. There seemed to be no good reason why the FCO should want the BIOT Administration, which is part of the FCO, to be immune from freedom of information and disclosure of environmental information. It was possible that the FCO would appeal to the First Tier Tribunal. The Chairman said he would table a further PQ on the subject.

The FAC meeting (postponed to 11 December) concerning the Overseas Territories White Paper, at which the new FCO Minister Mark Simmonds would be questioned, was discussed. Andrew Rosindell, the Vice Chairman of the Group, would be raising various issues regarding the section in the WP concerning BIOT.

The Group discussed the 1966 UK/US Exchange of Letters, due for renewal in 2014. It was felt that this provided a golden opportunity to discuss with the US an overall settlement of the issues and that the sooner these discussion began the better.

Lord Avebury’s intervention in the Lords debate on piracy in the Indian Ocean on 24 October was discussed. He had proposed that following up the meeting between the two prime ministers of 8 June, and once the court cases were out of the way, discussions between the UK and Mauritius on the future of the Chagos Islands should take place. Since Lord Avebury had received an unsatisfactory reply to his proposal during the debate it was suggested that he should write to the Minister concerned.

The next meeting of the APPG will be on 13 February 2013. As Philippa Gregory and the Comite Chagos were unable to meet the Group on this occasion it was agreed that they should do so before the next meeting.

Reaction to release of British colonial files

Posted in APPG, conservation, ECHR, FCO, Legal, MPA, Parliament, Philippa Gregory, Wikileaks, William Hague on April 23rd, 2012 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

The release of colonial files by the Forieign and Commonwelath Office, some referring to the expulsion of the Chagos Islanders, has provoked a strong reaction as well as suspicion about the validity of previously-released documets. Key points are raised in letters published by the Guardian under the theme Conspiracies and the legacy of empire.

British colonial files released following legal challenge

Posted in ECHR, FCO, Philippa Gregory, Uncategorized, William Hague on April 21st, 2012 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Secret files from British colonial rule – once thought lost – have been released by the government, one year after they came to light in a High Court challenge to disclose them. Some of the papers cover controversial episodes, including the expulsion of the Chagossians from their homeland. They also reveal efforts to destroy and reclassify sensitive files. The Foreign Office says it is now releasing “every paper” it can. But academics say the Foreign Office’s “failure” to deliver the archive for decades has created a “legacy of suspicion”.

The first batch of papers reveals efforts to deport Chagos islanders from the British Indian Ocean Territories and was discussed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on 18th April 2012, where Philippa Gregory, a Patron of the UK Chagos Support Association, commented:

“They are perfectly clear that they are lying. One official talks about telling a whopping fib or even a little fib, depending on how many [Chagossians] they are trying to pretend don’t exist.

It’s this kind of sporty, jolly hockey sticks attitude, like it’s all a bit of a game; like we are still in the Empire; like it’s a bit of fun to go to a foreign country, destroy their lives…The decision that was taken on this day, that has never been rescinded, destroyed the lives of that community.”

Philippa Gregory talks Chagos on US radio

Posted in Philippa Gregory on November 28th, 2011 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

Philippa Gregory

Here’s a recording of Philippa Gregory talking on San Francisco radio station Now 99.7 about her historical novels and her work supporting the Chagos islanders (jump to 11:15 for the Chagos part).

When she tells people the story of Chagos, the usual reply is: “That’s terrible, I didn’t know about it,” Gregory says. She describes the Chagos scandal as “hidden in plain sight”.