UK Chagos Support Association Annual General Meeting Minutes
Please find below the minutes from the Annual General Meeting of UK Chagos Support Association. This provides a summary of our discussion, plans for the next year and the names of our newly elected committee members.
UK Chagos Support Association
Annual General Meeting
3 September 2016
The meeting was chaired by Stefan Donnelly who began by welcoming those present, who then briefly introduced themselves. We were particularly honoured to be joined by Celia Whittaker, a founder of the organisation, and by Yoichi Kibata, an eminent Japanese historian who has had a long-standing interest in the Chagos Islands.
The Chair and Treasurer then presented their reports (at Annexes A and B respectively).
It was noted with concern that expenditure over the last 15 months had exceeded income (excluding repayment of an unused grant) by c.£2200. As the Association currently has cash of only c.£2900, it is imperative that significant new/increased sources of funds are identified and/or spending is sharply reduced.
The following were then unanimously elected to the committee.
Chair: Tom Guha, nominated by Stefan Donnelly, seconded by Martin Stanley.
Vice Chair: Stefan Donnelly, nominated by Kinnari Bhatt, seconded by Celia Whittaker.
Vice Chair: Kinnari Bhatt, nominated by Stefan Donnelly, seconded by Tom Guha.
Treasurer: Peri Batliwala, nominated by Kinnari Bhatt, seconded by Celia Whittaker.
Secretary: Lorraine Rogerson, nominated (with her agreement but in her absence) by Martin Stanley, seconded by Peri Batliwala.
All those present joined in a vote of thanks to Stefan Donnelly for his highly effective chairmanship, energy, enthusiasm and initiative over the past year or more. Thanks were also given to the retiring Vice Chair, Warren Paull, and retiring Secretary, Martin Stanley.
It was agreed that the quorum - including for funding decisions - should be four.
The committee would consider allocating individual members to particular roles, such as liaison with the Chagossian community.
(Shortly after the conclusion of the formal meeting, the four members of the new committee who were present co-opted Anna Ellis to join the committee as Newsletter and Communications Officer.)
There then followed a discussion of a rough timeline for the forthcoming year, plus a more detailed discussion of the Associations' future support for campaigning, community projects, and those Chagossians facing hardship. The following were the principal decisions and points made in discussion.
The Coming year and Campaigning
It is expected that the Government might announce its resettlement decision as soon as October but this is far from certain. If it slips into 2017, then this will be after the renewal of the lease to the USA. This would be undesirable but would not necessarily mean that resettlement was off the table.
The delay was probably at least in part due to the fact that the FCO had to agree its future policy with the MoD, the Treasury, and DfID as well as consult the Americans.
Although the Americans are believed to have been hostile to Chagossian resettlement - or even to Chagossians working temporarily on the Diego Garcia base, even if employed by a Mauritian contractor - their current attitude was undoubtedly less negative. There was evidence for this in the conclusion of the recent review that resettlement was feasible, and that jobs might now be available on the base.
It was interesting to note that the Seychelles Chagossians were taking legal action to challenge the recent resettlement review, apparently because the review team had not considered compensation issues despite the fact that compensation had only been paid (many years ago now) to those Chagossians who had settled in Mauritius, and not those deported to the Seychelles.
Representatives of the UKChSA committee hoped to meet FCO (BIOT) officials within the next fortnight.
Realistically, the Association would probably continue to maximise its influence by working closely with the APPG, whose cooperation and advice had been very valuable and greatly appreciated. Particular thanks were due to David Snoxell who had selflessly and tirelessly supported the Chagossian cause over the many years since he left the Diplomatic Service and became Coordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) APPG.
It was agreed it would be difficult for UKChSA alone to raise mass public support to the extent that Ministers are forced to deliver a return decision. Promoting the cause through a wider range of mainstream media outlets would then be a priority.
It might be helpful, when designing future campaigning, if contact could be made with, and information sought from, those original deportees who are still alive and living in the UK.
The Guardian was currently looking to feature immigrants with interesting stories who lived within the M25. It should be possible to identify such a Chagossian, maybe from the Croydon-based community.
It might be a good idea to work more closely with the Crawley organisers of Black History Month activities.
Pro bono support should be sought from professional and other skills within the supporter community. Thanks for given to Tori Hwyell-Davies, a freelance PR consultant who had done a lot of excellent work in the past year to win national news coverage of the Chagossian campaign for justice.
Strong links should be established with the recently formed US Chagos support group.
There had been occasions when individual Chagossians had sought help from committee members in preparing and presenting applications for financial support from the association, but it was generally much better if such applications were made without such assistance. This was (a) because it would be wrong for the impression to be given that individual committee members, or the whole committee, favoured applications from particular Chagossians or Chagos groups; and (b) because it was better for Chagossians to take full responsibility not only for the substance of the applications but also for complying with any subsequent requirements. And it was, of course, the case that the application process, via the association's website, was pretty straightforward.
There had been attempts to support the Chagossian community to set up some form of cooperative or mutual society to fund funeral expenses. Attempts had been made to advertise a role to attract any independent outside administrator to set up the fund, but so far these had been unsuccessful. The committee agreed they'd consult further with the community about how they'd want to take this idea forward
Care should be taken not to fund those funeral expenses that would be met by local councils in the absence of UKChSA funding.
A major benefit of achieving charitable status would be that the association could then seek grants from a much wider range of charitable and other bodies.
The association should consider organising fundraising events, for instance in Westminster and Crawley.
It was noticeable that the vast majority of one-off funding came via social media rather than (as only a couple of years ago) by cheque.
Bearing this in mind, the Association might consider a crowd-sourcing initiative, which could both raise much needed funds and raise wider public awareness.
Stefan Donnelly would investigate whether it would be advantageous for the association to become a charity. It was clear that the organisation had been established for essentially charitable purposes - supporting Chagossians in the UK - and, although it campaigns for Chagossian return to their homeland, this is far from its principal purpose. Bashir Khan might have a contact who could give valuable advice in this area.
Last - and certainly not least - £140 was raised at the end of the meeting in donations and t-shirt/bag sales, including a very generous gift of £90 from Yoichi Kibata.
Minutes by Outgoing Secretary Martin Stanley