This weekend’s Financial Times featured an in-depth article chronicling the history of the Chagossian people, from their exile in the 1960s to their response to the current Government’s resettlement proposals.
Written by Andrew Jack, the piece explores the shameful and senseless manner in which Chagossians were forced to leave their homeland as a US military base was constructed on their homeland, which remains sovereign UK territory. The deportation is described in the article by former UK High Commissioner to Mauritius David Snoxell as “colonial zeal coming back to haunt us.”
After years of legal wrangling by the UK Government to forbid return is reported, as are recent consultation documents which outline a highly limited form of resettlement the Government suggest they may support.
Even long-term advocates of return, however, including Mr Snoxell are dubious about the offer. Returned Chagossians would be effectively “indentured labourers,” the former diplomat states, noting the lack of land or property rights, combined with a lack of official status.
The extreme poverty and suffering Chagossians have experience and continue to experience in exile is also rightly acknowledged in the article.
Chagossians are cautiously assessing the proposals, but one native-born Chagossian is quoted in the article, saying simply “I’d like to go back to die in my own country.”
Commenting on the limitations which would be imposed on returnees, she added caustically
“we are like slaves in the UK anyway; what have we got to lose?”
In response, to this article a letter was on Monday published by the times by International Development expert Adrian Hewitt. This is reprinted below.
Sir, Thanks to Andrew Jack for his detailed recounting of what will truly be the beginning of the end of a “Long journey home” for the Chagossians (The Big Read, August 31) if the Supreme Court rules in their favour shortly.
For years, many of us have thought that, like the open sores of Western Sahara and quasi-stateless Palestinians, Chagos (or the British Indian Ocean Territory) was to remain one of the great international injustices, unsettled despite the ending of the cold war a quarter of a century ago. Ranged against authorities who described the Chagossians in print as Man Fridays were only we stout defenders of “lost causes”, plus maybe the late Robin Cook in his last days as foreign secretary. But people become wiser over time, and sometimes those who espouse apparently hopeless causes find themselves on the right side of history in the end. I know this in the person of Denis Greenhill (the late Lord Greenhill of Harrow) who wrote of the Tarzan/Man Friday memo, later becoming head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but who ended his public career as the chairman of an all-party parliamentary group I set up in parliament, on overseas development.
But let me offer a more topical encouragement for joining apparently hopeless political campaigns. The article mentions the secretary of another all-party parliamentary group, on the Chagos Islands, but not the name of its chairman. It is my local MP. Someone called Jeremy Corbyn.
Adrian P Hewitt