Tell them its time for justice!
Want to see Chagossian return? No matter where you are in the world you can tell the people making that decision it is time for justice.
The US has benefited for decades from use of the Chagos Islands. They should state unambiguously that they back Chagossian return.
Chagossians Hand Return-Petition to Prime Minister
Why now is the perfect time for return
On 22nd May, long-time Chagossian supporter and TV personality, Ben Fogle, handed a petition (still available to sign) in to Downing Street calling on the UK Government to finally support Chagossian return to their homeland.
You can see a full selection of pictures from the event here in our gallery section. If you were there and have any special pictures or videos we are missing, please send them in!
Chagossians have fought for their right to return for decades since their forced deportation, conducted under UK orders so a US military base could be built. An independent report last year confirmed return was possible. The Government committed to making a decision on return before the election but failed to so.
Chagossians called on the recently re-elected David Cameron to to finally deliver justice. Speaking outside 10 Downing Street, Mr Fogle branded the UK’s treatment of Chagossians a “terrible, terrible wrong ” and called on politicians to finally set it right, before adding optimistically he believed the “future would be bright” for Chagossians.
Watch Ben Fogle speak about his belief Chagossians will finally win the right to return
Sabrina Jean (second right top photo), Chairperson of Chagos Refugee Group UK Branch, handed in the protest with Ben and thanked him for his consistent support over many years. Mrs Jean herself deserves much credit for organising the event and ensuring it was well attended by Chagossians.
Speaking to the BBC, Ben added “For me, being a Brit, it was probably one of the things I’m most ashamed about, that I’m part of a country that forcibly evicted these people and is now refusing their right to return.”
The event received a lot of positive media attention, the BBC, RT, the i newspaper, BT’s Online News Service(important as it is likely to be seen by the millions who use BT to connect to the internet or for email), Asian Image and The Argus amongst the publications which picked up the story. We even had a Tweet of support from the editor of the Scottish Herald.
Today must represent the beginning of making a return a reality. The Prime Minister can now be under no illusions Chagossians want the right to return and the UK public back them.
This is the best opportunity for Chagossian justice in decades. Why? Quite a few reasons.
In 2016 the deal allowing the US to use Diego Garcia expires. The US military wish to extend this deal and the UK can and must insist a condition of any extension is support for Chagossian return.
The Government has accpeted that return is "practically feasible" following an independent report conducted by KPMG. This report confirmed that a resettled Chagossian society could be economically, environmentally and socially successful.
Its been almost 50 years since the first deportations. As time proceeds fewer and fewer of those who suffered the vile abuse of forced expulsion will have the opportunity to enjoy return. Justice delayed is justice denied.
Chagossians have been locked in a legal battle with the Government for 17 years, due to repeated Government appeals against verdicts in favour of Chagossians (more on the history here). Still there is a case before the Supreme Court. The Government has wasted millions of pounds of taxpayer money on legal fees and should instead invest this time, money and energy in establishing a renewed Chagossian community.
There is huge economic potential for the islands to become self-sufficent. Environmental protection, services for the military base, eco-tourism, domain name rental and craft products all present a fantastic opportunity for Chagossians to build a prosperous society. Read more about the economic realities of return below.
In spite of their suffering, Chagossians are happy to work constructively with the US military and UK Government to make their return home a positive for all parties. Chagossians living and working alongside the US military could improve efficiency and security at the base.
In the above mentioned feasibility study, Chagossians enthusiasm for working to maintain their unique homeland and its environment was noted several times. An environmentally-conscious community would be an ecological asset. Currently the Marine Protected Area is essentially unenofrcable as one boat is respponsible for monitoring an area the size of France!
The Economics of Return
In the past, “cost to the UK taxpayer” has been used as a reason for denying Chagossians’ their right to return home. Putting a price on justice may seem mean-spirited, but even if you wish to do so the facts indicate the cost to the UK will be incredibly small in relative terms.
The 2011 UK budget as a pie-chart: the cost of resettlement would not even be visible
Estimates in the draft resettlement report suggest that resettlement could be accomplished for less than £20 million per year over three years. Even this figure many experts have suggested appears excessively high, and there is confidence costs would be brought down by using local sources of labour and materials.
And whilst 60 million sounds like a lot, let’s put it in the context of Government budgets.
The International Development budget, which will be protected by law in the next Parliament, is around 11 billion per year-supporting Chagossian return would be less than 0.002% of this. See here for a visual representation of just what a small proportion this is.
The cost of Chagossian return is similarly less than 0.002% of financial cost of Iraq and Afghan wars.
According a Telegraph report, the UK Government has spent £60 million on business class flights since 2010.
In 2012/ 2013 MPs expenses totalled £98.1 million- almost double what Chagossian return could cost across three years!
The cost is then modest, but the full amount is in any case highly unlikely to fall upon UK taxpayers of a variety of reasons.
When the US agreed the use of Diego Garcia with the UK in 1966, the UK received a discount of £11 million on the Polaris nuclear weapons system, around £200 million in today’s money. This deal expires in 2016 and any extension will likely have an equivalent financial aspect. This could pay for resettlement several times over.
European Union Regional Development Funds are highly likely to be available to support the creation of a renewed Chagossian society.
Eco-tourism, carefully managed to minimize environmental impact, is just one private industry which is likely to invest in the a resettled Chagossian society. Private sector investment will be another factor which minimizes the public cost of return.
If the UK Government makes any significant contribution, it is likely to come from the Department for International Development (DFID) budget. By the next election, this is likely to be protected by law at 0.7% of GDP. On current economic figures, the mandated annual rise alone would be more than enough to support Chagossian return.
The DFID budget currently stands at over 11 billion per year- Chagossian return will less than 0.002% of this
It is also worth noting British Overseas Territories are already priortised in aid budgets.
How will Chagossians’ make money on the resettled islands?
There’s many possible ways the resourceful and diversely skilled Chagossian population could become engaged in on a renewed Chagossian society. Here are just a few.
Working on the US military base. Currently the US airbase employs thousands of support staff it is forced to employ on a temporary basis from Sri Lanka, The Philippines and other South Asian nations. A resettled Chagossian population would be ideally suited to take up some of these roles and provide a secure source of employment.
Working for local Government: A resettled Chagossian society will require governance and administration. Chagossians are well placed and suitably skilled to take up these roles.
Environmental Monitoring: An independent report into the feasibility of Chagossian return has found that Chagossians’ are “very environmentally conscious” and are “willing to play an active part maintaining the pristine environment of the Chagos Islands including as environmental monitors.”
Eco-Tourism: This would complement rather than conflict with an environmental protection role. Green technology could be used to construct and sustainably maintain small-scale, high-end tourist facilities. There are of course many other models of tourism and tourism globally is a known long-term growth industry.
Home stay tourismis one option, used to great effect in the self-sufficient remote British Overseas Territory of Tristen de Cunha
‘Survival tourism’ is further model of tourism which could be utilised in a renewed Chagossian society; under guidance of Chagossian environmental monitors, people would be willing to pay large amounts to spend time in the uninhabited outer Chagos Islands.
‘Dark’ Tourism: A growing trend which people visit places with unique or troubled pasts. The history, geography and culture of Diego Garcia are would be present a genuinely unparalleled appeal, especially with Chagossian guides and historians present.
The ‘.io’ domain name: Under their unlovley but official name of the British Indian Ocean Territory, the Chagos Islands have the right to the popular ‘.io’ domain name. It is already popular with a variety of private companies due to its connections with the IT industry and has potential use as a marketable suffix, like Libya’s ‘.ly’. All that holds it back currently are the nasty connotations with a forced deportation. A resettled Chagossian society could rebrand it as an ethical product.
Fishing: A small managed fishing project could generate income and provide a sustainable, locally sourced food supply. The US military are already allowed to fish recreationally in and around Diego Garcia. A sustainable, artisan fishing industry could develop with minimal environmental impact. It should additionally be remembered that Diego Garcia is not in the Chagos Marine Protected Area (MPA) so environmental impact and the need for new regulation would be minimal.
Stamps & coins: A traditional source of income for many small island territories, stamps and coins from a resettled Chagos Islands could generate significant income. A range of stamps and coins celebrating return could be especially valuable.
Agriculture: The draft KPMG feasibility report makes plain small-scale agriculture could be environmentally sustainable. Agriculture could also provide income generating opportunities and a sustainable local food source.
Local products & handicrafts- Cultural products produced by local communities in remote locations have a unique, marketable value abroad. Examples of this include the high-end honey produced on the Pitcairn Islands. A range of similar products could be produced by returned Chagossian entrepreneurs, perhaps involving the traditional coconut production which was the staple of the island economy in previous generations.
Of course these are just ideas and there is potential for income generation elsewhere. Living in exile the Chagossian people have cultivated a wide and diverse range of skills which could be utilised in a range of industries.