No Place Like Home: Chagossian history explored in new radio feature
Last month, Andrew Mueller of the Monocle Magazine's The Foreign Desk hosted a panel of speakers to discuss the current issues surrounding the struggle for sovereignty and other bureaucratic issues the Chagossians face in their right to return. Frankie Bontemps, chairman of the Chagos Islanders Movement, Olivier Bancoult, chairman of Chagos Refugee Group in Mauritius and Steven Allen, the senior lecturer of Law at Queen Mary, University of London all contributed. The 25-minute in-depth discussion covered topics such as the current legal status of the Chagos archipelago and the issues the British Foreign Office face with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) after a UN vote decided to take the matter to the ICJ. Allen and Mueller also both discussed how the result of the UN vote to take the case to the ICJ posed a threat to the UK’s international image and diplomatic ties.
Allen and Mueller suggested that it was a significant success for Chagossians, regardless of the outcome. In addition, Allen stressed the importance of public recognition for the plight of the Chagossians, and how the right to return would be a ‘remedy to the historical sight of injustice’ and a step forward towards the complete elimination of British contemporary imperialism. Although the process of resettlement on an island that has been uninhabited for over half a century may be quite a lengthy and costly one, making sure a diaspora in exile return back to their ancestral homeland is an important and integral process to solve a plight of injustice that has spanned generations. "Not having them there, means there s a problem you don’t have to worry about" "the only people they got to deal with is 12 Brits or something. That's the only lineage they have to have" Another important point made in the discussion was the importance of recognising the identity of Chagossians - a point often overlooked. An infamous memo by a UK official writing to his US counterpart prior to the construction of the US military base described Chagossians as "a few Tarzans and Man Fridays whose origin is obscure." In fact, it has always been known that many Chagossian families had families on the islands going back four or five generations.
The programme also discussed how many families are still divided and scattered across different countries such as the Seychelles, Mauritius and the UK ,and the idea of reuniting again looks unpromising due to immigration laws and lack of legal representation.
Olivier Bancoult and Frankie Bontemps talk about the lack of access to the island since Chagossians were forcibly exiled, and how Filipino and other workers of South Asian origin are asked to work at the military base for minimum wage pay when Chagossians are more than happy to work on the island which they call home. Although the UK government does not explicitly state that Chagossians are not permitted to work on the military base, job postings are only advertised in certain countries where there isn’t a big Chagossian diaspora, such as the Philippines. The full podcast can be listened to on here: