Archive for September, 2010

Bitter disappointment for the Chagos islanders – again

Posted in ConDem, FCO, Legal on September 30th, 2010 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

After raising the hopes of the exiled Chagos islanders for an end to their plight, the coalition has dashed those hopes yet again.

Commitments of support for the islanders before the election were followed by encouraging noises from the new Foreign Secretary William Hague, who indicated in a conversation with constituent Philippa Gregory that the best solution would be to allow the islanders home.

But in a letter sent to Chagos Refugees Group leader Olivier Bancoult in August while parliament was still in recess, Foreign Office Minister Henry Bellingham said the coalition would “continue to contest the case” at the European Court of Human Rights, and that the arguments put forward by the previous government for preventing a return were in fact “clear and compelling”.

The islanders could hardly believe the new government would go back on its word so dramatically – especially without cabinet or the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Chagos having been consulted. But when William Hague was asked about Chagos at the Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this month, he said that “when you go into it in detail, it is quite hard to hold out the prospect of a fundamental change of policy, so I do not want to raise any hopes of that.” Hague said that he was still looking into the issue, but that “in the light of what I have seen so far, we will be maintaining the position that we have taken on proceedings in the European Court”.

Despite this, Business Secretary Vince Cable, a known supporter of the islanders, wrote in a letter to a constituent that the government intended to drop the case – also noting that the Liberal Democrats “will continue to aid [the islanders'] campaign to see justice done”.

But within hours of Cable’s letter being made public by the New Statesman, the Foreign Office had got in touch to say that it was the result of a “mistake”. Cable then swiftly issued a second letter apologising for the first one, which he claimed was sent “in error”. The coalition, he said this time, would in fact continue the policies of the previous government (which the Lib Dems previously accused of “mistreating” the islanders).

Error or otherwise, Cable’s first letter shows us how he feels and where the Lib Dems stand. What that means for government policy is another matter, and Cable now says he is unable to remain as actively involved with this cause, because of his ministerial role.

Clearly the coalition is in complete chaos over Chagos, and it seems to be settling into trotting out the same specious arguments that the islanders have been hearing for years.

Words of support before the election have amounted to nothing. William Hague has not, as he promised when he was seeking votes, ensured “a fair settlement of this long-standing dispute” (which would be achieved by dropping the case and seeking a friendly settlement). Nor has Nick Clegg acted on his belief that the government has a “responsibility” to allow the islanders home. Vince Cable, who made clear in his first (hand-signed) letter that both he and Hague were “committed” to a fair settlement of the matter, now seems to want to distance himself from the issue.

The Chagos islanders are, of course, used to being disappointed. But the government that promised foreign policy “with a conscience” could hardly have found a crueller way to raise their hopes and then dash them. As David Snoxell, co-ordinator of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Chagos, told the New Statesman: “A candid explanation to the Chagos Islanders, parliament and the media is now required.”

Andy Burnham voices ‘sympathy’ for Chagossians

Posted in Labour on September 21st, 2010 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Labour leadership candidate Andy Burnham has written to Kieran Roberts of the Labour Friends of Chagos Islanders, with the following message:

“Whilst I certainly sympathise with the historic plight of the Chagossians, and believe that their eviction is a source of shame for our Foreign Office, I cannot at the moment commit to lobbying for or enacting a change to the current policy. That is not to say that I am not open to the idea; more that I am not furnished with the full facts from both sides of the argument regarding the current situation.”

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Chagos will be able to furnish Burnham with the facts he needs. We just hope he doesn’t ask the Foreign Office.

Government urged to reconsider flawed MPA for Chagos

Posted in ConDem, MPA on September 20th, 2010 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Baroness Whitaker, a member of the All Party Pariamentary Group on the Chagos, recently urged the British Government to implement the “tried and tested model” for Marine Protected Areas (MPA), where they “keep the residents living there, where they help maintain the conservation area”. She goes on to mention that this model has been used for the Galapagos Islands and the American MPA off Western Hawaii, and would “allow the exiled Chagossians to return to their birthplace and put right an acknowledged tragic injustice”.

Chagossians in Mauritius on BBC radio

Posted in coverage, Mauritius on September 19th, 2010 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

In Radio 4′s From Our Own Correspondent programme this week, the BBC’s Lorraine Mallender speaks to Chagos islanders in Mauritius. Hundreds of people were dumped on the docks of Mauritius in the 60s with no help from the British or Mauritian authorities, and many still live there. They share their memories of the islands and their hopes for a return. Follow the link above and jump to 17:15 to listen (NB the audio may not work outside the UK and is only available online for a limited time).

Government to drop case against Chagos islanders, says Vince Cable

Posted in ConDem, FCO, Legal on September 13th, 2010 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Fantastic news for the Chagossians today: in a letter to a constituent, business secretary Vince Cable has said that the coalition government will drop its case at the European Court of Human Rights against the Chagos islanders.

The letter says:

“The coalition government are dropping the case in the European Court of Human Rights opting instead for a friendly settlement. The previous government were trying to uphold the expulsion.”

But the government may yet be wavering on this one. The New Statesman, which has reprinted Cable’s letter on its website, now says it has been told by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills that the letter “was issued by Dr Cable’s constituency office in error, and a new letter will be sent out”.

Please urge your MPs to make sure the government keeps its promises on this one.

Philippa Gregory on the plight of the Chagos Islanders

Posted in Philippa Gregory, video on September 6th, 2010 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

Speaking at a meeting of Chagos Islanders in Crawley, Philippa Gregory, bestselling author and co-patron of the UK Chagos Support Association, talks of being “astounded” when she first read of the Islanders’ struggle, and calls on the Government to bring the injustice to an end.

Chagossians asked to share stories

Posted in CICA, CRG on September 5th, 2010 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Chagossians are being asked to contribute their stories to an online archive of information about the everyday lives of communities.

The Mass Observation Communities Online project, based at the University of Sussex, is collecting stories and photographs from people in various communities across Britain.

Chagossians interested in taking part can share their stories on the project’s website, here. Participants have until later this month to answer a questionnaire or submit a diary and photos about their life.

At a meeting in Crawley yesterday, islanders shared their stories with researchers from the University of Sussex, and met with Philippa Gregory and Ben Fogle, co-patrons of the UK Chagos Support Association.

Ben Fogle speaks with Chagossians
Ben Fogle speaks with Chagossians

Petition: Let the Chagos islanders return home

Posted in Uncategorized on September 2nd, 2010 by Robert Bain – 3 Comments

The Labour Friends of Chagos Islanders have set up a petition calling for the Prime Minister to allow the Chagos islanders to return home. It’s already got dozens of signatures. You can read it in full and sign it here.

Meanwhile, in the light of recent statements from the Foreign Office (see here and here) about the government’s position on resettlement of the Chagos islands and the establishment of a Marine Protected Area, this association makes the following statement:

The UK Chagos Support Association would condemn in the strongest possible terms any reversal of commitments made to the Chagossian cause by the coalition parties. We are seeking clarification of the position and remain committed to working with the UK government to establish the right to return.