Chagossians react to UK government £40m package
The government's shameful decision to oppose Chagossian return to their homeland last November came with an unexpected caveat. An offer of £40m for Chagossian community projects over 10 years, in the UK, Mauritius, Seychelles and elsewhere. This was not, as was widely reported, an offer of compensation. Rather it was money committed to the still somewhat vague aims of improving Chagossian access health care services, employment and social services. The offer was unexpected and has been treated with some skepticism. But many Chagossians are still considering the best way to respond, although all have been clear the offer is in no way a substitute for their fundamental right to live in their homeland.
Several leading members of the Chagossian community have met with and pressed Foreign Office officials for more detail on how the funds may be used. We've put together a summary of the reaction from Chagossian community groups and figures so far. Chagos Refugee Group leader Oliver Bancoult has rejected the offer entirely. In a letter to the UK's High Commissioner to Mauritius, Mr Bancoult wrote that "we have our dignity and are not for sale," branding the offer "a trap." Instead he calls for the right of return and genuine compensation, particularly for elderly native born Chagossians. In their a letter to UK Prime Minister Theresa May, Chagos Islands Welfare Group have also argued that social support measures like housing access, UK pensions for Chagossians abroad and immigration law reform would be more effective in supporting Chagossians in overcoming the serious difficulties they still face in exile. Their letter also reaffirms Chagossians' basic, inalienable right to live in their homeland was fundamental and would never be compromised. Many of these points were also expressed by Chagos Islands Welfare Group committee member Frankie Bontemps at the December Downing Street protest in a video interview.
Immediately after the decision against return, Allen Vincatassin, leader of the Diego Garcia and Chagos Islands Council, similarly affirmed the ongoing fundamental rights of Chagossians to live in their homeland. He said he would continue to discuss with officials and the community how the offer of £40m for community projects could be useful.
Crawley British Chagossian Community Group organised a meeting of native-born Chagossian and others shortly after the decision to consider their next steps and share their outrage with the media. Following this, the group will meet with Foreign Office civil servants in the next few weeks to find out more. Bernadette Dugasse, a long-term Chagossian activist with the Seychelles Chagossian Committee in the UK, also shared her view powerfully with us. She correctly emphasised that she and others from the Seychelles have never received a penny compensation from the UK government. Mrs Dugasse remarked: "Where was the British with their £40 million when I was going to school barefooted? Where were they when I was growing up needing medical assistance? Where were they when I needed social assistance growing up in the Seychelles?
"Now when I am getting tired and old they want me to assist with a 10 years project. I would like my compensation that I never received from them. Then they can let me go home so I can enjoy my last days in enjoying the beach,sunshine and peace."
The government must listen to all Chagossians when making decisions about their future. The decision on the best way forward is for Chagossians and Chagossians alone. One thing is certain though, no matter what happens, no Chagossian will ever give up their fundamental rights to their homeland.
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