UK Government fails to end Chagossian exile
Two years of waiting today came to end. The Government announced that they will not be going ahead with a pilot resettlement scheme that would have allowed two hundred Chagossians to return to their islands for a trial period of two years.
The decision has truly rocked the Chagossian community. Many were too stunned to comment, others made clear that the fight is not over.
In a written statement, Sir Alan Duncan MP said the decision was made “on the grounds of feasibility, defence and security interests, and cost to the British taxpayer”. He went on say that there are great challenges in “establishing modern public services… limited healthcare and education… and a lack of economic opportunities, particularly job prospects”.
These are surprising concerns. After the publication of a Government commissioned feasibility study into Chagossian resettlement, Ministers had accepted that return was “practically feasible” in defence and security terms. In addition, civilian populations live adjacent to military bases all over the world.
With regards to cost, “pessimistic” estimates show return could be achieved for £64m over 3 years. If covered fully by the UK Government, this is 0.02% of the International Development budget, though support could come from the US, the EU, as well as the private sector and NGOs.
And to allay particular concerns around job prospects, it is worth pointing the Minister in the direction of the Government’s own feasibility study, which found:
“The wide range of employment skills present in the Chagossian community has allowed the team to identify major livelihood options for a resettled community”.
The decision was softened slightly by the announcement of a £40 million funding package to “support improvements to the livelihoods of Chagossians in the communities where they now live”.
The fund will be spent over a period of ten years. We are yet to discover any details of what it can be used for but we will work with the Government and the Chagossian community to ensure it is spent to achieve maximum impact.
Speaking to the BBC, Chagossian community leader Allen Vincatassin stated that the community would work with the government to find out more about the fund, but that the campaign for return "would continue."
Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn even raised the issue at Prime Minister's Questions, expressing his concern that report suggested Chagossians were going to be betrayed again. Unfortunately just a few hours later this proved to be true.
Sabrina Jean, leader of the UK branch of Chagos Refugee Group, also spoke to reaffirm her commitment to winning justice, stating:
"For me the British government has always done wrong things to the Chagossian community but now it's time to see what we can do to let them correct the wrong they have done to us.
"Everyone has the right to live on their island but why not us?"
Our patrons were also very vocal in denouncing the decision. Ben Fogle called it “another heartbreaking day for the Chagossian community, who have repeatedly been betrayed and abused by their own government. That even now, with so many reasons to support their return, the government have failed to do the right thing, makes this a dark day in our country's history."
Benjamin Zephaniah joined the condemnation, saying, “once again, the people of the Chagos Islands are met with injustice. Sadly today’s decision is just another familiar scenario in a long and tragic episode of British foreign policy”.
Our Chair, Tom Guha, said:
“We are profoundly saddened by the fact that the Government have today squandered a perfect opportunity to right this historical wrong. This is a shameful decision and will be remembered as such in the history books. The Government will continue to pay the price - not only in ongoing litigation fees - but in a deepened moral deficit.
“We are at least pleased by the announcement of a funding package to improve the lives of Chagossians. We will work with the Government and with the Chagossian community to ensure this fund is of maximum benefit”.
On Thursday morning, angry MPs reacted further, by asking an Urgent Question in Parliament on the decision. Around 20 MPs spoke of their dismay at the decision and urged the Minister to reconsider.
Please stay tuned for more updates.