Many thanks to the Press Association and Richard Wheeler for permitting our reproduction of this Press Association report.
‘No obstacles’ to Chagos resettling
By Richard Wheeler, Press Association Political Staff
There are “no fundamental legal obstacles” that would prevent resettlement on the British-controlled Chagos Islands, according to a new independent report.
An initial population of between 150 to 500 people is the most likely option for the central Indian Ocean territory should resettlement take place, the draft KPMG assessment adds.
The British forced the Chagossians to leave the islands by 1973 to allow the US to establish an air base on Diego Garcia, the largest island in the Chagos archipelago.
Critics described the expulsions as one of the most shameful episodes in modern British colonial history, with the exiled Chagossians fighting a long series of legal battles for the right of return.
KPMG was appointed as independent consultants by the Foreign Office to carry out the study in 2013 and has now published a draft feasibility study assessing three options for potential resettlement.
It suggests the most likely options for any initial return would either be a pilot, small-scale resettlement (option three) or a medium-scale resettlement (option two).
Option three involves resettling 150 Chagossians, with the potential for growth should it prove successful, while option two envisages resettling 500.
The report notes this would “probably” be on Diego Garcia with “possible later expansion” on the outer islands, which could involve the large-scale resettlement plan (option one) of 1,500 Chagossians.
Discussing the legal and political issues, the report says on the conclusions and implications for resettlement: “There are no fundamental legal obstacles that would prevent a resettlement of BIOT (British Indian Ocean Territory) to go ahead.
“The legal and constitutional framework will however require significant amendment in order to facilitate a resettlement and this will require a comprehensive consultation process with the Chagossians and other interested parties.”
The report explains the needs of the returning population would have to be balanced with environmental concerns and the use of the territory for defence purposes.
One-off costs of developing transport infrastructure, sea defences, houses, public buildings, utilities and services have also been estimated for each resettlement option.
The smallest resettlement option for 150 people could cost £62.9 million to establish and be implemented over three years, the medium option could cost £106.9 million over four years and the biggest may take six years and cost £413.9 million.
The latter would reduce to £180.8 million if a breakwater/harbour and an airport are excluded.
KPMG also found Diego Garcia is the most suitable location in the territory for resettlement when compared to “remote, inhospitable islands” Boddam and Ile du Coin.
The study considered a range of factors for potential resettlement of the three islands, including rainfall, freshwater supply, soil quality, fish population, the abundance of sea cucumber and the logistics of importing food.
The report noted: “The most likely options for any initial resettlement of BIOT are option three (pilot, small-scale resettlement) or option two (medium-scale re-settlement) – probably in Diego Garcia, with possible later expansion involving option one (large-scale re-settlement) on the outer islands – such as Ile du Coin or Boddam.”
In a written statement to Parliament, Foreign Office minister James Duddridge said: “In line with its terms of reference, the feasibility study has examined the full range of options for resettlement on each of the islands of the territory, including Diego Garcia with its vital military base.
“Final views are now sought from the Chagossian community and all those with an interest.
“The study will conclude and issue its final report to ministers in January 2015.”