Bishops call for Chagossian return now
Bishops from across the Indian Ocean have come together to call for Chagossians to be allowed to return to their homeland. In a major and powerful intervention, the Bishops condemn the "brutality" of their removal and call for the authorities who deported them to facilitate their return.
Referencing Pope Francis' declaration that this is the "year of mercy," they call for an end to Chagossians' years of suffering and exile. The backing of the Bishops is a big boost for Chagossian community, which is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, as they continue their campaign for justice. Right is a picture of a Catholic Church on the Chagos Islands, still standing almost 50 years since the final parishioners were deported.
The statement was published in the Seychelles Nation newspaper on 19.9.16 (French language article). It was agreed by the Catholic Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of the Indian Ocean(CEDOI-representing the islands of Mauritius, Reunion, Seychelles, Rodrigues and Comoros) during their annual meeting in Mauritius in late August 2016.
Elsewhere the statement expresses solidarity with the Chagossian people “still suffering the trauma of having been cruelly uprooted from their islands”.
The Bishops went on to confirm that the Chagossian “attachment to their land is completely legitimate and they do have a right to return to their islands”, adding that the authorities responsible should do everything they can to help them return."
The Bishops statement also includes a strong condemnation of the mis-characterisation of Chagossians which is worth reading in full, even in translation:
"They were not seasonal workers as they wanted to believe; they were and are still a people with cultural originality shaped by the joys and challenges of life on the scattered islands. Their ancestors are buried there; there are still traces of their villages that reflect a life of long duration that was brutally interrupted. We support their struggle for the return to their islands to which they are entitled."
Getting the support of this influential collection of authorities is a big boost for Chagossian community, which is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. As the Bishops note, it is appropriate that in the "year of mercy" religious figures go out of their way to express their "fraternal support for all the Chagossian people."