Chagossians in Parliament press MPs to finally deliver justice.
MPs from across all parties, including Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, called for the Government to “put to bed a shameful chapter in the UK's history” by supporting Chagossians right to return to their homeland in a Westminster Hall debate yesterday. The full debate can be watched here, or the transcript read here.
As can be seen the above picture, a large number of Chagossians attended the debate and met with MPs before and after the debate to explain their experience and ambitions face-to-face. UK Chagos Support Association funds helped pay for transport so Chagossians could attend the debate, so a massive thank you to all our donors for making the day happen. Having Chagossians present at the debate about their own future made a real difference.
Leaders of the Opposition typically do not speak in such debates but Jeremy Corbyn reiterated he has long been “a passionate advocate of the Chagossian people,” crediting them for “fighting for so long and so valiantly for their rights.”
Responding, Minister for Overseas Territories Mark Duddridge assured MPs present that Ministers were continuing to look at resettlement options and added that he took his responsibility on this issue “very seriously.” Mr Duddridge also confirmed his plans to travel to the Islands, meet with Chagossians and the meet with the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group before a final decision is reached.
The debate comes at an opportune moment, with a consultation into Chagossian resettlement ending the day before the debate and a Supreme Court judgement due in the very near future. Speaking of the consultation, the Minister acknowledged a “positive response” from the community and accepted “many Chagossians” want to return. He also stated the Government also wanted to support the ambitions of those who would prefer to remain.
Although acknowledging the mistakes of previous Governments, the Minister commented that there remained “issues” around resettlement, including cost, military use and social concerns.
Prior to the Ministers comments, Labour Shadow Foreign Minister Stephen Doughty pledged to work with the Government and added that “I fundamentally believe there is a way to resolve any issues around resettlement.”
Throughout the debate a range of speakers, including SNP MP Paul Monaghan who secured the debate, raised various other concerns. Points mentioned included the complexity of Chagossian citizenship status, the poverty-ridden exile of Chagossians and the chance to secure US support for resettlement as the terms of UK-US agreement on the use of Diego Garcia comes up for renewal next year.
The public gallery was unusually full for the debate, with Chagossians packed in to see the debate on their future. The Minister James Duddridge acknowledged the high attendance, both by politicians and Chagossians, demonstrated the “passion” of the debate. Henry Smith, Conservative MP for Crawley, noted that "there are more Chagossians in the gallery than there have been in the Chagos Archipelago over the past fifty years, and that can not be right."
UK Chagos Support Association welcome the Minister's commitment to deliver return on fair terms, paricualrly his plan to meet with Chagossians. We ask him to consider seriously some of the criticisms of the current consultation strategy raised during the debate.
“The level of support in Parliament demonstrates resettlement can be made a reality, and needs to be, in the very near future” commented UK Chagos Support Association Committee Chair Stefan Donnelly.