Chagossian community hustings in Crawley
Wednesday evening saw the UK Chagos Support Association put on a hustings event at the
Broadfield Community Centre for the benefit of the Chagossian community in Crawley to help them
decide which MP to vote for in the constituency in the general election next Thursday 8th June.
The event was attended by the Conservative candidate Henry Smith who has represented
the constituency since 2010, the labour candidate Tim Lunnon who is the current councillor for
Broadfield South, and the Liberal Democrat candidate Marko Scepanovic, along with approximately fifty Chagossians from the community, including Marie Lafleur who did an exceptional job of translating to Chagossian Creole, and volunteers from the UK Chagos Support Association who organised and chaired the debate.
The debate started with opening statements from the candidates. Conservative MP for Crawley since 2010 Henry Smith focused on his record thus far with getting an official apology last November from the UK Government for the forced exile of the indigenous and vowed to fight further for the community for achieving the right to return.
Labour's Tim Lunnon emphasised Labour’s record in government at promoting opportunity
regardless of background, and their current policies including the £10 an hour minimum wage. He further stated how as Crawley MP he’d fight not only for resettlement but also to improve the quality of life of those wish to remain in Crawley.
Liberal Democrat candidate Marko Scepanovic emphasised how he has been born, raised educated and currently works locally in Crawley and the surrounding area. He stated how the Liberal Democrats in the coalition government were restricted against their wishes to improve life for the Chagossians as they weren’t in charge of foreign policy.
Questions were then put to the panel from the community. Gianny Augustin included a question
about how the £40 million support package,offered by the government last November to the Chagossian community when they decided against supporting resettlement will be spent.
In response, Henry Smith mentioned how this was not a replacement for the right to return and the Chaogossian community should have a say on how this will be spent.
Tim Lunnon however was sceptical about the figure being used as a “bribe” to pacify the Chagossians, while Marko Scepanovic criticised the communication between
the government and the community with respect to the funds.
Frankie Bontemps, vice-chair of the Chagos Islanders Movement then raised an issue on
immigration which is of imminent and paramount importance to many Chagossians today. This was on how many of the Chagossians are facing deportation and struggling to obtain citizenship despite being direct descendants of parents/grandparents being born and evicted from the British territory.
Tim Lunnon stated how the current system is not fair with descendants being born between
arbitrary dates not being allowed to remain in the UK and this needs to be rectified. The other
candidates were in agreement, with Marko raising a specific recent example of deportation, and
Henry emphasising the point that Chagossians are a unique case but are British citizens and shouldat least be allowed the right to reside in the UK.
Further issues were raised and discussed by the candidates on housing by Corinne Chan, on
culture by Vanessa Chateaux and Marie Ainee, who was personally born and deported from the
islands and is struggling to get a visa or citizenship for her grandson.
Short closing statements then came from the candidates, with Tim Lunnon emphasising the
labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s historical record at supporting the Chagossian community and their right to return with the statement “with Jeremy Corbyn’s record at supporting this community if he can’t help you I don’t know who can.”
The debate was very emotional and further highlighted the pressing issues facing the
resilient Chagossian community in Crawley who have fought numerous set-backs over the years in
their pursuit of justice and the right to reside in either their indigenous land or the UK. We hope the
event gave the community a chance to get to know the candidates slightly better and help them
decide who to vote for next Thursday.
Full video clips of the debate can be viewed on our twitter
page at https://twitter.com/ChagosUK .