No Room For The Chagos Islanders At ‘Let Them Return’ Launch

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Chagos Islands Community Association and their supporters marching in Crawley on February 10th last year
Chagos Islands Community Association and their supporters marching in Crawley on February 10th last year

THE UP-to 2,000 Chagossians who live in Crawley have been shocked to hear that their representatives have been barred from attending the launch of ‘Let Them Return’ and the presentation of the report ‘Returning Home’ at the House of Lords on Tuesday April 8, at 11.00am.

The secretary of the self-styled UK Chagos Support Association, which claims authorship of the documents, Ms Joanna Harma, wrote to them: ‘I have unfortunately been informed that we have already reached capacity.

‘I was waiting until today to get my list of attendees in and I seem to have missed the boat.

‘The number of attendees is limited to the number of seats that the room can hold (no standing room).

‘I am really sorry about this, but I have been told that we already have a good number of Chagossians attending, so that at least is good.’

So once again, the fate of the Chagossian people is to be decided behind their backs.

There is no room for the Chagossians, but senior American officials such as Pam Tremont and the US ambassador and ‘other colleagues’ from the US embassy have been invited to attend the launch.

As is well known, the Chagos Islanders were run off their islands so that Diego Garcia could be handed over by Britain to the United States to house a massive nuclear base for making war in the region.

It is a scandal that there is room for the enemies of the Chagossian people at the launch, but no room for the Chagossians.

One of the Chagos Islanders’ ‘supporters’, Iain Orr, an ex-Foreign Office official, wrote to Tremont at the US embassy, saying: ‘Oliver and the UK Chagos Support Association would welcome the ambassador, yourself and/or other colleagues from the US embassy to attend the launch.’

He added: ‘As you will see from the documents, a central point is that resettlement is seen as no threat to UK and US strategic interests and the military facilities on Diego Garcia.

‘I am sure you will have followed closely the discussions in the Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, where Richard Gifford made the following point:

‘“For practical purposes, the resettlement plan of the Chagossians, which will be launched in the House of Lords next month, will be confined to the outer islands of Salomon and Peros Banhos.

‘“The Chagossians accept that, for present purposes, it is not politically practicable to press for a return to where they mostly originate from, which is Diego Garcia, and where, we have to say, their heart lies.”’

In fact, the Chagossians have never been consulted about this.

The Chagossian community in Crawley, up to 2,000 strong, is completely opposed to having a US nuclear base on their islands and they want to be able to return to all of the islands.

It is a fact that they have never been consulted about any resettlement plan that Olivier Bancoult, Richard Gifford and others have drawn up completely without consultation with them.

The ‘Let Them Return’ document states: ‘Lord Avebury is hosting this historic event in the long campaign for justice for all Chagossians.’

In fact, Bancoult and Gifford are only in favour of a chosen few of 1,000 Chagossians having the right to return.

The Chagossian community in Britain has been simply by-passed and ignored.

The ‘Let Them Return’ document reveals that there is a commercial side to this resettlement plan, and that the proposals for resettlement were developed ‘with support from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust’.

The report states that John Howell, a former director of the Overseas Development Institute in London, has visited Mauritius three times.

It states: ‘As well as working with the Chagossians he met potential investors (in tourism and fisheries especially), consulting engineers, environmental NGOs and quantity surveyors.’

While businessmen are consulted about the profits they could make out of eco-tourism, there is no consultation with thousands of Chagossians at all.

This is a scandal.

‘Let Them Return’ states that the report answers the five main questions about how many Chagossians want to return, how will Chagossians secure incomes and livelihoods, and their islands generate revenues to pay for the services and amenities required; how will the resettlement be managed and the islands run their affairs; how much will resettlement cost and where will the money come from; and how will Chagossians contribute to conservation.

The report answers these questions once again without consulting the Chagossians.

It seems that shaking off imperialist attitudes is very hard indeed.

In fact, Hengride Permal, the chair of the Chagos Islands Community Association, based in Crawley, in her written evidence to the Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, made the following points.

‘We do not accept that there is a group of Chagossians who are more entitled to return to their homes than the rest of the Chagossian community, which is scattered in the UK, the Seychelles, Mauritius and other countries.

‘We are all suffering. We all have the right to return and we all represent the same generations.

‘We are very disturbed that it seems to us that we are being by-passed.

‘Nobody has ever informed us of the establishment of a resettlement team. . . we have never seen this resettlement plan, nobody has consulted us about it.

‘In our opinion we have the right to return, we have the right to draw up, with the rest of the Chagossian community, a resettlement plan, and be represented on a negotiating team.

‘This cannot be done for us or without us.

‘This is why we would like to give face-to-face evidence on these issues to your Foreign Affairs Committee.’

She also wrote a letter to the solicitor, Richard Gifford, which remains unanswered to this day.

‘Dear Mr Gifford,

Re: House of Commons Select Committee Hearing

In your evidence to the recent House of Commons Select Committee hearing on the Overseas Territories on January 23, 2008, you stated that the resettlement plan for the Chagossians would be launched in the House of Lords next month. We would be much obliged if you would send us a copy of this resettlement plan.

We are concerned that the Chagos Islands Community Association, which represents the Chagossians now living in the UK, have never been consulted about this plan. Throughout your evidence, it appears that just 1,000 Chagossians from Mauritius are being considered as a token return, leaving ourselves, and many other Chagossians, out of the picture completely.

As you know, we were betrayed and sold out by British governments who drove us out of our homes in the 1960s and 1970s. We have been treated like slaves.

The Chagossians must not be split up and divided into different groups. We are all Chagossians, whether we live in Mauritius, the Seychelles or in the UK. We all have the same right to return and we must be allowed to negotiate that ourselves.

Could you therefore please also let us know who is on this ‘resettlement team’, how they were chosen and why we have never even been advised that such a team has been established.

Could you also send us the details about the Chagos Islands Conservation Trust, who it consists of, who makes it up, who they represent, who finances it, and what are the nature of the consultations that are going to take place.

We appreciate the outstanding work that you have done as a legal representative in challenging the legal basis of our expulsion from our homes, but we wish to insist that representatives from all the Chagossian communities be allowed to discuss, negotiate and decide on every stage of our return to our island homes and related matters.

Hoping for a speedy reply,

With best wishes

Yours sincerely

Hengride Permal

Chair, Chagos Islands Community Association.’

The Chagossians were thrown out of their island homes in a conspiracy organised by the British government and the American government.

They will not be denied the right to return for all Chagossians by some new manoeuvre involving ‘support groups’ and entrepreneurs.

Representatives of the Chagos Islands Community Association will be presenting themselves at 10.30am on Monday morning at the St Stephens Entrance to parliament and expect to be allowed in to take part in the discussion about the launch of ‘Let Them Return’ and the ‘Returning Home’ report.

They are determined that the Chagossian people will not be denied their right of self-determination by anybody, friendly or otherwise.