Benjamin Zephaniah backs justice for Chagossians

This weekend in The Voice, writer and musician Benjamin Zephaniah calls on the British Government to end the exile of the Chagossian people. Benjamin is a Patron of UK Chagos Support Association, but writes in a personal capacity and his views are his own.

Mr Zephaniah, who has long history fighting for racial equality, uses his feature piece in Britian's biggest black community newspaper to call on "all black communities to shout louder to defend our Chagossian brothers and sisters." He adds though it is in fact for everyone in Britain to make sure the Government "end Chagossian exile in 2016."

Beginning a return programme now, he argues, would in fact not only give "a stricken community a future," it would be an opportunity for "Britain to do the right thing."

The article also outlines the history of Chagossians often painful exile. Their deliberate misrepresentation as migrant workers by UK authorities is noted, as is their neglect in the slums of Mauritius and the Seychelles and the destruction of their beloved pet dogs during the deportations. The racist terms used to describe Chagossians by a senior UK diplomat-"Tarzans" and "Man Fridays"-are also recalled.

After explaining the history, Benjamin explains how he became involved in the cause. He looks back to his early political inspirations: the civil rights struggles in black and minority communities in the USA and South Africa. The most successful and effective changemakers, Benjamin argues "understand how their struggles connects to others around the world."

And indeed when speaking with Chagossians, Benjamin says his is reminded of the struggles of South Africans resisting apartheid. "They are tenacious, steadfast, and they know that truth is on their side."

Benjamin adds that "Chagossians have always tried hard to avoid playing 'the race card'" but questions whether their neglect is at least in part due to racial prejudice. He asks why the self-determination of the Falkland Islanders has been championed, but the same rights have never been given to Chagossians.

Benjamin's piece concludes with this simple, powerful appeal for justice.

"Ending Chagossians UK-enforced exile is the only just end to decades of human rights violations. 2016 must be the year we stand together and end their exile."

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