New exclusive interview with Andrew Rosindell MP
A few weeks ago we were lucky enough to have half an hour to chat with Andrew Rosindell MP, the recently elected Chair of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group.
Our gracious thanks are due to Mr Rosindell and his staff for his extraordinary work on this issue over the years, and for taking the time to meet with us.
Mr Rosindell replaced Jeremy Corbyn as Chairperson shortly after Mr Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party. Although as a Conservative MP Andrew is very different politically to Jeremy, he proved equally passionate about securing justice for the Chagossian people.
Since his election in 2001, Andrew Rosindell has been a consistent campaigner for Chagossian rights. He has been extremley active in Parliament pressing Ministers to finally end 50 years of injustice by restoring Chagossians right to live in their homeland.
In our interview, Andrew covered a range of issues, including why he got involved and how he is working to secure justice now. Read his full interview below.
1: You've been active on this issue in Parliament since your election 15 years ago. How did you first learn about the exile of Chagossian people and why did you choose to support the campaign?
It is an issue I've followed and worked on for a long time. I've always tried to stand up for the rights of all citizens of British Overseas Territories and Chagossians, are British citizens at the
time of the deportation and remain so. What has happened to Chagossians is a terrible abuse of their rights both as human beings and as British citizens.
Their deportation, the denigration of their culture and their neglect in exile runs totally contrary to what I see as our shared British values of respect for human rights and fair play. I became involved in the campaign as the Chagossian people need advocates in Parliament if we are going to secure a just outcome, not to mention remove this shameful stain on our nation's proud record of standing up for human rights.
2: Why are the next few months so important in the Chagossian campaign for justice?
Although the timings are not yet entirely clear, we expect a lot to happen in the next few months. After an independent Government-commissioned feasibility report was published early last year, the Government accepted return was possible but wanted to do more work on further issues. We have been told a Government decision on whether to support return will be delivered “soon.” With the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands I will be working to hold Ministers to account over this process.
There is also a Supreme Court verdict relating the current ban on Chagossians living in their homeland, which is expected soon this year. This relates to Chagossians' basic rights around living on the Islands and could also have a big impact on their efforts to win the right to return.
3: This issue attracts a surprising amount of cross-party support-why is that?
It is true that MPs and peers from all parties have taken an active interest in getting justice for Chagossians. The Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group, of which I recently became Chairman, is one of the most active in Parliament and has representatives from literally every Westminster party – ten different parties in total!
I think this reflects how clear the injustice suffered by Chagossians is. No-one can look at how successive Governments treated the people of the Chagos Archipelago and conclude they have been treated fairly.
Regardless of one's political perspective, there are some basic British moral principles which the treatment meted out to Chagossians over the decades violates. The good news is that so many politicians now recognise there is a chance, and a necessity, to end this ongoing injustice right now.
4: What will the next steps for Chagossian resettlement to become reality?
Following the independent Government-commissioned report by KPMG which confirmed resettlement of the Chagos Islands by Chagossians was practically feasible, the Government launched a further consultation which concluded late last year. In truth I am not sure this was necessary as the report demonstrated very clearly return could be a success. A small-scale pilot scheme could have been launched already.
In any case, however, that consultation has now concluded and we await the Government's response. Ministers have stated that they had concerns about cost and levels of demand. Certainly there can not be a blank cheque but actual liabilities to the British tax-payer can be kept quite low.
Funding from the European Union's Development Fund could help finance a renewed Chagossian society in the long-term, as could private sector and third-sector investment.
The US also have responsibilities around the suffering Chagossians have experienced, having made the removal of Chagossians a condition of the original deal over the use of Diego Garcia. I think it is only fair, as the agreement on the use of Diego Garcia comes up for renewal in 2016, that in exchange for any extension we ask that the US back Chagossians as they rebuild their society.
5: Why is this the ideal time for Chagossian resettlement to happen?
In a way there is never an ideal time as this should have happened in the first place. I wish we didn't have to be here discussing 50 years of exile. But the ideal time to end an injustice like this, a stain on our national reputation, is always as soon as possible.
It is also true that with the UK-US agreement which led to Chagossians deportation expiring this year, and renewal negotiations in process, there is an opportunity to kick start a resettlement process. Government backing return now would also save the embarrassment of continuing a long legal battle against Chagossians.
More simply, the deportations happened over 40 years ago. Many native-born Chagossians are very aware this may be the last opportunity for them to return home and live their lives in the land of their birth.
6: Do you see any conflict between the continued presence of the US military base and a returned Chagossian population?
No, to put it quite simply. Almost all military bases around the world have an adjacent civilian population; there's no reason it should impair the day-to-day work of the base. And remember the base already has a civilian population. Thousands of support workers, largely seasonal contract workers from the The Philippines, live and work on Diego Garcia. There's no reason Chagossians could not pick up many of these jobs and actually enhance the efficiency of the base.
7: The Government has raised questions over the levels of demand amongst the community for return. Are you confident the demand for right to return is genuine?
The Chagossian return campaign has been led by volunteer groups of Chagossians over decades and is probably more active now than ever. These people would not be giving up their time and energy fighting what at times has seemed like a lost cause if they did not genuinely want their right to return. Hundreds of Chagossians are ready to go right now. I don't think there's any question there is enough to demand to get started with a small-scale resettlement immediately.
It is true not everyone would wish to return immediately. Others may prefer to wait a few years so the society can develop and they can honour existing commitments where they live now.
Some will also wish to remain where they are now, be that the UK, Mauritius, Seychelles or elsewhere. And we must remember we have a responsibility to these Chagossians too, who often have extreme difficulties within their community including poverty, access to housing and discrimination.
8: Finally, do you think Chagossians will finally be allowed to return to their homeland.
We can never say for sure really but we are closer than we have been for a long time. The Government will make their decision soon and we'll certainly be pushing them to finally deliver a fair solution and support Chagossians right to return.
I really think we must take the decision to end Chagossians' exile now. It has gone on for far too long already, and it is difficult to understand why it hasn't been resolved sooner.
Although it is a complex issue with a complex history, at heart it is very simple. Our nation has not treated the Chagossians fairly, and we now have an opportunity to start treating them fairly. We need to give them the same, simple rights as all other British citizens and allow them to live in the land of their birth. We rightly defend the rights of the Falkland Islanders and Gibraltarians and now we must offer the same support to the Chagossians.