Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group: Coordinator's Summary
Thanks as ever are due to the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group coordinator David Snoxell for compiling the below summary of the latest meeting of the Group.
The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 60th meeting on 25 January. The Group reviewed the PQs and correspondence with ministers since its last meeting on 5 December 2016 and took note of letters from Olivier Bancoult, Chairman of the Chagos Refugee Group (CRG), to the Foreign Secretary and to the BIOT Commissioner concerning resettlement and restoration of the right of abode. The Group reiterated its view that the right of abode should be restored, as it had been in November 2000, especially as the Government had not given any reason why they might be opposed to doing so.
The Group also discussed the latest formulation (FDSC - feasibility, defence, security, cost) for the Government's decision not to proceed with resettlement and concluded that these reasons had been disproved in the 2015 KPMG report, in debates, and the Group's statements and letters to Ministers over the past 8 years. Furthermore the Government had not provided any reasoned arguments for FDSC in their written ministerial statement, letters and Answers to PQs.
Recalling the stated purpose of the APPG, which is to help bring about a resolution of the issues concerning the future of the Chagos Islands and of its exiled inhabitants, Members decided that until this or a future government was willing to try out a pilot resettlement, as recommended by KPMG, the Group should identify incremental ways of strengthening the bonds between the Chagossians and their homeland.
Employment on the base as contract workers without their families, was not a substitute. Rather Chagossians could live and work on the islands in a variety of capacities such as MPA management, undertaking conservation, monitoring of marine and bird life and environmental changes, services to scientific expeditions, staffing a scientific station and leisure activities for base personnel.
This could, for example, be running boat trips, snorkeling, diving, fishing, providing guides, sports, making handicrafts for sale. Also there was work concerning the history and heritage of the Islanders such as establishing and staffing a heritage centre/museum, restoring ruins and clearing cemeteries. In time this could develop into a small tourism industry for the 4000 staff on the base, some of whom might like to work with Chagossians in a voluntary capacity.
Members felt that would appeal at least to the 41 British personnel stationed there. The Group considered that this would make an ideal programme for the £40m "assistance package" over the next decade and commended these suggestions to Chagossians, the MOD, FCO and DIFID. Clearly the aspiration of the Chagossians was to return but in the meantime such projects would go some way to developing closer links with their homeland, history and heritage.
The Group was informed about the status of the potential judicial review of the Government's decision rejecting resettlement. It agreed that if requested its correspondence and documents should be made available to the Courts given that members felt that the Government's duty of candour should apply equally to the work of the APPG.
Members looked forward to working with the new Government of Mauritius and its High Commissioner in London. They hoped that both governments would work energetically and resume the bilateral talks which the Foreign Secretary and Mauritian PM had agreed in September, in order to reach an accommodation on future management and sovereignty of the islands and on enabling the Chagossians to return to their homeland. It was hoped that this would be concluded before the June deadline for the triggering of the Mauritian draft resolution at the UNGA.
The next meeting of the APPG is on 1 March.