Dennis Healey, Chagossian Deportation & the chance for justice now
The passing of former UK Chancellor Chancellor and Defence Secretary Dennis Healey, aged 98, last week was of course first and foremost a time to send condolences to the friends and family of the departed.
Mr Healey's death was also a time for reflection for the Chagossian people, however, who where forced into exile during his tenure as Defence Secretary. A few media outlets, including the Guardian, noted that this was one of the most controversial moments of Healey's long career.
In John Pilger's 2004 Stealing a Nation documentary about the Chagossian exile, the fim-maker asks for an interview with Lord Healey, but the peer declines, stating that he has "no memories" of the Chagos Archipelago.
In a letter to the Guardian this week, however, former UK High Commissioner to Mauritius David Snoxell clarifies Lord Healey's role in the Chagossian deportation. It was the then Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart who proposed the Chagossian deportation, or "return" as it was disingeniously described. The Prime Minister of the day Harold Wilson formally approved the final deportation in 1969.
Regardless of the personel involved, however, fifty years on from the beginnings of a cruel act which scarred the lives of a people and the reputation of a nation, there is, as Mr Snoxell states an "ideal opportunity to make resettlement a reality."
The Government have admitted that a return programme for Chagossians would be "practically feasible" and are now only questioning the implications on cost and demand grounds. The demand, however, is plain for all to see and the cost to the UK taxpayer will be wholly minimal.
As the final Minister from the Government that condemned Chagossians' to exile and severe poverty passes on, surviving exiles still hope to die in the land of their birth. The younger generation look to start a new life in the land of their parents, grandparents and ancestors.
Whatever Lord Healey's role in Chagossians' exile, his passing is a milestone in the struggle for justice. Time is short and we must act urgently to tell the Government to support Chagossians' in returning to their homeland on fair terms, ending 50 years of painful injustice.