Chagossian community representatives meet Foreign Secretary
UK-based Chagossian community leaders met Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson last month, as well as Lord Ahmed of Wimbledon, the Minister directly responsible for the British Indian Ocean Territory.
The meeting focused on the proposed £40m support package for Chagossians communities living in exile.
Short minutes of the discussion have been released, and are copied in below. These are not exhaustive, but give an indication of the main points of discussion during the meeting.
Chagossian representatives meeting with the Foreign Office
The Foreign Secretary and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon met with representatives of Chagossian community to discuss issues they face in the UK. On 10 October six representatives from the Chagossian community in the UK met with the Foreign Secretary and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister for the Commonwealth and the UN.
This allowed Ministers to hear first-hand about some of the challenges that the community were facing and to discuss progress with regard to the Chagossian support package. The meeting lasted for over an hour and covered a range of issues.
Nationality and Immigration
Chagossian representatives highlighted the challenges faced by the community with regard to the current nationality and immigration rules which were resulting in families being divided and were prohibitive in allowing family to join relatives in the UK. They added that this is causing suffering and hardship, particularly for Chagossians in Mauritius who were living in abject poverty. Representatives stated support for an amendment that was going to be brought by Henry Smith, MP to an Immigration Bill which they hoped would assist the Chagossian community reunite families. The Foreign Secretary undertook to follow up these issues.
Lord Ahmad explained that the support package was intended to provide assistance to Chagossians in the communities where they now live. This support comes with no strings attached, and any engagement with, or acceptance of, the support package has no impact on Chagossians involvement in challenging other decisions on the future of the British Indian Ocean Territory.
Chagossian representatives explained that amongst the challenges facing the community in the UK were affordable housing, access to training and education, English language difficulties and maintaining cultural identity. They also felt it was difficult to gain access to services provided by the local authority.
Discussions on how to implement the support package had started and it is important that all Chagossians are able to feed in views should they want to. Officials are working with local authorities to better understand needs of the community through working closely with them and there would be further announcements on this shortly.
The commitment by the Foreign Secretary to "follow up on these issues [the seperation of Chaossian families by immigration and nationality laws] is positive move. We hope he and the government will support Henry Smith's bill, due to go to Parliament in the near future, which would reform immigration law to make it fairer to Chagossians.
Equally the assurance that engagement with the support package came with "no strings attached"
and "has no impact on Chagossians' involvement in challenging other decisions on the future of the British Indian Ocean Territory [Chagos Islands] is welcome.
Chagossian community groups and individuals will now consider their response, and decide the best way to win justice, support and positive change for their community. Whatever their decision, we must all stand in solidarity with them as they continue their long fight.