Chagossians protest at 10 Downing Street
Today at 10 Downing Street hundreds of Chagossians protested against the UK government's refusal to allow them to return to their homeland. Handing in a letter demanding their right to return and support in exile, they were joined by prominent Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, who chairs a large cross-party which has supported the Islanders cause for many years.
Last month the UK government concluded a three-year policy review by declining to support or permit Chagossian to return to their homeland, citing concerns over cost and long-term viability in spite of accepting return was "practically feasible." Ministers had downplayed the number of Chagossians who wished to return, but today on a Thursday morning over 150 Chagossians found time to come to London to chant 'Let Us Return.' (video below)
Chagossian Jean-Paul France, who as a leading figure in Chagos Islands Welfare group did much to organise the event, told journalists in an interview published on Newsflare that
"We are here today because of the big injustice which has been dealt to us, and to our families. We're here because they took our land, and now they say they aren't going to give us back our land. So we had to come here."
Chagos Islands Welfare Group Chairperson Frankie Bontemps also spoke out (below), saying "We will never give up our right to return. This is fundamental and non-negotiable. The Government say they are doing what's best for us but they never consult us"
"We also need support right here and right now too. Chagossians families like my own are being split up because of immigration law, Chagossians are being deported. Many Chagossians pensioners, who suffered most because of the deportation, are living in poverty. And others have big problems with finding housing. This has to stop."
"The government's offer of £40m for training programmes and education projects may be useful, but it is totally insufficient. How will that help the elderly native-born Chagossians who suffered the deportation? They have already retired and just wanted some basic support and the chance to return home. If the Government had the political will, they could do this easily,"
Hengride Permal, Chairperson of the Chagos Islands Community Association, expressed her frustration at the government's decision too, saying (see video below)
"We've had enough of the British government refusing our rights to go back to our homeland. That's why we've brought a letter the Prime Minister today... We will never give up our fight for justice"
"Chagossians are suffering and the Chagossian community has been damaged because of the British government's actions. But the the British government has been ignoring us and our rights as British citizens."
"I hope now our new Prime Minister will look again at our case, and understand the suffering our community has underwent since we were removed from our islands. We are demanding justice, and I ask the Government, and all MPs, to listen to us."
Lucette Martin, Chairperson of the Chagossian Elderly Group, which helps the older native-born Chagossians living in the UK, also spoke of the sadness of elderly natives upon hearing of the government's decision not to support return (see video above). Lucette herself was also born on the Chagos Islands.
"It was very painful to hear the government will not allow us to return to where we were born. Life is very difficult for the elderly Chagossians in the UK, and they miss their country. They want to return to have a good life,"
"The first thing we want is to return to our country. But whilst we are need help as our families are being divided by immigration law. In a family of five three can have British passports and two are not allowed. That is not good for anyone and its not fair."
Sabrina Jean, Chairperson of Chagos Refugee Group in the UK, added that
"For too long our history has been denied by the government. Today we stand up for who we are and what we believe in. And it is our fundamental right to return back home to the Chagos Islands."
(Quote is from Ingrid Guyon's excellent short film, made and published on the day of the protest, which is available at the top of this page or on Youtube.)
Andrew Rosindell MP also commented on his pride in presenting a letter to the Prime Minister with 6 native born Chagossian women.
"Today I was proud to join a group of British citizens born in the Chagos Islands as they handed in their request that they be allowed to return to the Prime Minister. This simple request is their fundamental right, but right now they are banned by law from living in the land of their birth. No other British citizen suffers this fate and nor should they."
UK Chagos Support Association also backed the protest, with UK Chagos Support Association Chair Tom Guha stating that
"Chagossians today showed that they will not give up on their fundamental rights, and emanded action to help them face the very real difficulties they face in this country. I hope the government can deliver real change for Chagossians and we're willing to work with everyone to make sure this happens."
Following the success of the protest, Chagossians will be working with their supporters to secure wider national and international support for their campaign, whilst also working to improve the lives of Chagossian communities suffering in exile right now. The strong , vocal turn out today emphasised the strength of feeling in the community and the amazing strength of Chagossians character as they continue their fight for justice.