07 April 2008

A blueprint for the Chagos Islanders

A resettlement plan for the Chagos islands will be symbolically presented in the House of Lords tomorrow to Olivier Bancoult, the Chagossians' leader in exile. It is hoped that the plan, which is backed by the Let Them Return campaign and written by John Howell, former director of the Overseas Development Institute, will be a persuasive case for a retreat by the government which continues to appeal against court rulings in the islanders’ favour.

The report suggests there are "no physical, economic or environmental reasons" why resettlement on the islands of Peros Banhos and Salomon should not happen. It suggests about 150 families, fewer than 1,000 people - about a quarter of those entitled to go back - would want to return. Eco-tourism and fish exports could provide jobs and income. The total cost to the UK of resettlement would be about £25m.

The residents of the Chagos archipelago were removed in 1971 to make way for a military base in Diego Garcia. They were dispatched to Mauritius and the Seychelles, where many have since died in poverty. They received limited compensation in 1982 in return for signing away their rights to return and in 2002 they were granted British citizenship.

Ten years ago the Chagossians, some of whom now live in England, began legal action for the right to return, and in 2000 the divisional court ruled their eviction illegal. The foreign secretary at the time, Robin Cook, agreed they should be allowed to return to all the islands except Diego Garcia. However, after the September 11 attacks in the US, Diego Garcia became an important base for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2004 the UK government issued orders in council which negated the court's ruling, but two years later the high court ruled in favour of the Chagossians. In May last year the government lost again at appeal. In November the Lords granted the government leave to appeal but ordered it to pay all legal costs, regardless of the decision. The case has been allotted five days from June 30, after which every legal avenue will have been exhausted.

Richard Gifford, lawyer for the Chagossians, said: "We have now had three decisions in our favour, involving a total of seven judges." It would need "quite a cataclysm to decide that all seven were wrong". He added: "Legally, it is the end of the road for the government."

An FCO spokesman confirmed that the government appeal would go ahead.

I’ve said this before and I will say it again. The treatment of the Chagos Islanders was a disgrace. It is an equal disgrace that the government chooses to fight when it has been beaten three times in the courts. The government should concede and try and salvage a little dignity in what has been a sordid episode in British history.


Anonymous said...

Next it will be Bushco accusing the UK Gov of returning terrorists to harry the miltary at Diego Garcia.
The whole affair was disgusting - I hope they get compensation as well.

jams o donnell said...

It was a disgrace Aileni. I hope they get properly compensated too

Anonymous said...

I heard about this forced resettlement, and the crappy way it was carried out a month or so again. Thanks for the update - you hear these things and then lose track.

jams o donnell said...

It's been a story I've vitisted since the very start of the Poor Mouth. I think it's an utterly sordid tale

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

I've always thought they should be allowed to return.

jams o donnell said...

Absolutely Welshcakes