Chagos Islands All-Party Group Statement on failure to end Chagossian exile

The Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group has issued a statement following the government's failure to support Chagossians to return to their homeland this week. The All-party Group issued the statement after meeting with the Defence, Foreign Office and International Development Ministers to discuss resettlement. The meeting took place after the sudden annoucement that the government would not back resettlement earlier that day.

The following day several group members forced a debate in Parliament by submitting an Urgent Question on the decision not to support Chagossian return, a full summary of which you can read here.

The coordinator of the group David Snoxell, who has worked on these issues for over a decade following his role as High Commissioner to Mauritius, also released a strongly worded personal statement. You can download and read this in full here.

Statement by the Chagos Islands (BIOT) APPG on 16 November 2016

The APPG was established in 2008 and has 51 members representing all ten political parties in Parliament.

The Group held its 58th meeting on 16 November and considered the written ministerial statement issued two hours earlier, concerning the Government’s decision not to allow the Chagossians to resettle in their homeland. Three ministers of state from the FCO (Baroness Anelay), Defence (Earl Howe) and Department of International Development (Lord Bates) had several weeks earlier been invited for a discussion on the issues regarding resettlement. Members were shocked to discover that this discussion had been pre-empted by the written statement.

The Government had been telling Parliament that a decision on resettlement would not be announced until the end of the year. The reason for announcing it on 16 November could only be to close off discussion of the issues. This looked like a fait accompli. Members also expressed indignation that the decision had been leaked to the Guardian the day before it was made available to Parliament.

Members expressed much disappointment at this decision. They felt it had ignored the arguments put by the Group and experts over the years concerning viability, sustainability, cost, funding, defence and security, international human rights obligations and the views of the Courts which since 2000 had deplored the treatment of the Chagossians. They did not accept the Government’s premise that feasibility, defence and security interests and cost were sufficient grounds for not agreeing to a pilot resettlement, recommended by the KPMG feasibility study. The written statement lacked any reasoned argument as to why resettlement could not be implemented.

Members appealed to ministers to think again on the basis of other studies, the KPMG report and further discussions with the Group. They were well aware that the US was not opposed to resettlement and that any security concerns were easily manageable. Given that, with the agreement of the US, the KPMG consultants had visited Diego Garcia and that this island was their preferred option it was not logical to deploy defence and security as a reason against resettlement.

The APPG felt that the costs and style of resettlement had been significantly exaggerated and that in any case the Overseas Territories were a first call on the Aid Programme. The British tax payer would not fund the entire cost as the ministerial statement had implied. The US, who do not pay rent for the base would no doubt contribute. The Group took the view that the continuing damage to the UK’s reputation for the promotion of human rights far outweighed the cost and difficulties of trying out a resettlement.

The Group questioned whether the Government had properly considered the Supreme Court conclusions that in the light of the KPMG study maintaining the ban on Chagossian return may no longer be lawful, and that if the Government failed to restore the right of abode it would be open to Chagossians to mount a new challenge by way of judicial review. They noted that the ministerial statement had not referred to the right of abode which should be restored whether or not resettlement was allowed. Some Chagossians would only wish to visit their homeland and should be able to do so whenever they wanted.

Members questioned if it was really in the tax payers’ interest to prolong litigation for several more years. 17 years of expensive litigation, amounting to several million pounds, not to mention the cost of Whitehall staff and resources, could have gone towards the cost of resettlement.

They also thought that it was not in the national interest for the international and national campaigns in support of the Chagossians, to continue with increasing opprobrium and negative publicity for the UK. This undermined the UK’s human rights record and the British sense of fair play. Why should Chagossians, who are British, be treated any differently from other British nationals of Overseas Territories? Members noted that on 24 October, UN Day, Baroness Anelay had referred to the UK’s “unwavering commitment to human rights”.

The Group also felt that the £40 million of project money that was being offered to the Chagossians would be better spent on funding resettlement. This was nearly twice the capital cost of resettlement estimated in 2008 by Dr John Howell, former Director of the Overseas Development Institute. But it was for Chagossians to decide. The Group would wait to hear their reactions before supporting anything less than a pilot resettlement

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