2013-2016: Government Review of Resettlement
Re-examining resettlement for Chagos Islanders was a commitment made by all parties prior to the 2010 general election. History though has taught Chagossians to be wary of such promises.
There was then still a measure of surprise when then Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that the Government would commission a feasibility study to look into potential for Chagossian return to their homeland.
Professional services firm KPMG were given the contract to carry out the study, with the bulk the work being carried out in 2014. The study intended to assess the potential costs of resettlement, environmental impact of Chagossian return and the enthusiasm of Chagossians for a return home.
Chagossians had serious concerns about the way in which the project was carried out, but engaged fully in the work and were pleased to see recognition that resettlement is eminently achievable.
The report was released in February 2015. It concluded that:
Resettlement is entirely feasible
The Chagossian community has a genuine interest in securing return
Chagossians are entirely committed to maintaining the environment of the Chagos Islands and a managed return would have minimal negative environmental impact
A Chagossian community could establish good working relations with any continuing military presence on Diego Garcia.
The Government pledged to reach a decision before the May 2015 election but failed to do so. Subsequently a new consultation on return was launched, notionally to scrutinise "uncertainities" around "cost" and "demand for return."
Chagossians and ther supporters were frustrated that yet another delay was being imposed when even the Government now accepted that return was "practically feasible."
On the Government's "uncertainties," cost estimates, which KPMG described as made with "pessimism" were included in the fesability report whilst there is unquestionably sufficent demand to begin small-scale resettlement right now.
Despite the evidence produced by the study along with cross party support to grant a return, on the 16th of November the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth affairs released a statement on behalf of the Government denying the Chagossians their basic right as human beings to return to their islands of birth and instead offered a 10 year funding package.
The decision also as it stands will allow the lease to renew for another 20 years. The grounds for denying the Chagossians their right to return were based on "feasibility, defence and security interests, and cost to the British taxpayer", with many of these concerns independently quashed by the very feasibility study they commissioned, and that's before you consider their human, moral and ethical aspects.
The UK Chagos Support Association does not agree with the statement in its current form. If the US-UK lease is to be extended, it must be conditional on support for Chagossian return and support for those in exile. Justice can not come too soon.