A unique conference on the future of Chagos is being held in London later this month, with conservationists, politicians, anthropologists, the Chagos people themselves and their supporters invited to take part.Chagos Regagné (Chagos Regained) will be hosted by Roch Evenor, chair of Committee Chagos and of the UK Chagos Support Association, along with patrons Ben Fogle and Philippa Gregory. It is to be held at the Royal Geographic Society on Thursday 19 May. Transport is being laid on for Chagossians living in Crawley and Manchester who want to attend.
Philippa Gregory said: “The conference is to gather current thinking on the desirability of a small eco-village, science station to house Chagos people and host visiting conservation scientists to be established on one of the outer islands. The plan is that Chagos people from all around the world would be able to visit, and some would stay on short-term contracts to work as conservators and guardians of the MPA, staffing and assisting at a science station, and patrolling. They would live in eco-houses and practise sustainable small-scale fishing and market gardening. Perhaps some of the older people would like to stay for long visits.”This proposal is to be considered while the Chagos people’s legal claim to return to their islands goes through the European Court of Human Rights. Philippa Gregory said: “I have such a sense of urgency for the Chagos people. Some of the older people especially want to return at once. I am hoping that the scientists and politicians will agree that this is a way that people could return immediately.”
Scientists, anthropologists, Chagos representatives and consultants will outline the possibilities and the difficulties of this plan, and delegates will be able to discuss the arguments for and against. The papers presented will form part of a briefing that will go to the Foreign Secretary William Hague, who has expressed interest. Conservationists have responded to Ben Fogle’s call for openness.
The conference will be made up of four sessions. The first will look at Chagos reef ecology now. Lead speakers will be Mark Spalding, John Turner and Bernadette Dugasse.
The second will be a debate on human impact now. Lead speakers will be John Howell and the US author and historian David Vine.The afternoon will open with a debate about the possible future of the islands led by Richard Dunne, Sean Carey, Paul Gardiner, and a Chagos conservation volunteer. Additional information will come from the Mauritius lead legal advisor Philippe Sands and Richard Gifford of the Chagos legal team.
An open discussion will follow and Ben Fogle will close the meeting with a discussion with Sabrina Jean and other Chagos people.
Senior politicians, advisors and scientists have confirmed their attendance, some flying in to the UK specially. “I hope this will open the debate for the new government at an entirely new level,” said Philippa Gregory. “I believe that this is an opportunity for the Chagos people to work out how they can return to their islands with the support of conservationists, scientists and the British government.”
Chagos Regagné will be held at the Royal Geographic Society in London, May 19 2011, 10-4pm. Tickets are available from firstname.lastname@example.org for £30.