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BBC News – 9th April 2008

The Guardian – 9th April 2008

Foreign Policy in Focus – 3rd April 2008


Press Release 7th April 2008

ISLANDERS’ PROVE TO UK AND US GOVERNMENTS THEY HAVE A SECURE FUTURE IF ALLOWED TO RETURN HOME

A group of Chagos islanders who were forcibly evicted from their homes in the Indian Ocean by the British Government in the 1970s say they have proof that they could live a secure life if they were allowed to return home.

Their conclusions contrast sharply with that of the British government who say that resettlement for the Chagos islanders would be both impractical and costly.

Through financial help from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust the islanders commissioned a resettlement expert to write and cost the first ever resettlement strategy.

The study Going Home: A proposal for the resettlement of the Chagos Islands by John Howell, former director of the Overseas Development Institute will be launched on Tuesday (April 8) at the House of Lords.

The study says that

  • Around 150 families (below 1000 people) are expected to settle over the first five years (there are an estimated 600 Chagossian families in total, most in Mauritius and smaller numbers in Sychelles and the UK)
  • High value eco-tourism and fresh fish exports are identified as sources of both jobs and revenues that can review cash flow positive property investment. Private investors have been consulted on the business requirements for success with air transport a critical component.  Other income and production opportunities identified include vegetable and fruit production.
  • Rare species of marine life and birds in one of the most beautiful places on earth will be carefully managed to avoid exploiting the natural environment. Efforts will also be made to train the Chagossians in conservation monitoring.
  • A Chagos Development Trust will both co-ordinate public and private investment. A Chagos Resettlement Commission is also proposed to manage the process of approving applications for resettlement and awarding plots. 
  • The costs of resettlement are estimated at £17.5 million - costs that would be met by either a coalition of British government departments, private investment or the European Development Fund.
  • Other costs could be a further £15 million over 5 years but these are likely to be spread across a number of agencies with the cost to Department for International Development (DfiD) in the region of £7.5 million. The total estimated cost to the British government is estimated to be £25 million.

ENDS

John’s Howell’s report that earlier BIOT feasibility studies correctly identified the environmental risks of human habitation in a pristine coral eco-system but failed to recognize the contribution a settled population could make to environmental conservation.

The report also criticizes the absence of economic analysis in BIOTstudies and identifies, in tourism and fisheries in particular, ‘clear opportunities for significantly enhancing the incomes of resettled Chagossians and, in the process, securing a level of revenues that would sustain decent living standards’.

John Howell is available for interview and will be at the House of Lords for the launch of the study on Tuesday 8 April. The launch runs from 11.00 am through to 13.30 pm.

Olivier Bancoult, the leader of the Chagossians in exile is also available for comment. 

  • The Chagossians return to the House of Lords on June 30 to begin a legal fight to stay the Court of Appeal judgment of May 2007, which allowed them to return to the outer islands of the Chagos Archipelago. Sir Sydney Kentridge QC is expected to lead the Chagossians legal team. 
  • The Chagossians have been engaged in a legal struggle for the right to return to the homes from which they were expelled in the late 1960s to make way for the building of a US military base on Diego Garcia. In 2000 they won the right to return to outer islands, some 100 miles from Diego Garcia, but subsequently Orders in Council were issued prohibiting resettlement.

Press Release 20th January 2008

CAMPAIGN AIMS TO ALLOW ISLANDERS TO RETURN HOME

Richard Morris founder of Public Image is to co-lead a global public relations campaign which aims to bring greater media and public attention to one of the worst humanitarian scandals enacted by a British government in the last four decades. 

Together with communications consultant Julian Hanford of Karma, Morris said that the campaign ‘Let Them Return’ which will launch at the House of Lords on April 8th, will bring the sorry tale of the Chagossian people to greater public attention and put pressure on international governments to debate the islanders struggle for basic justice.

He said: ‘The scandal of the Chagos islanders began in late 1960s when the British government under Harold Wilson forcibly removed the largely unskilled population of around 2000 people from the Chagos islands in the Indian Ocean.  

‘Their animals were rounded up and slaughtered and their pets were gassed. When the islanders arrived in Mauritius they were dumped on the dockside with few belongings and no hope. 

The depopulation was done at the behest of the US government to make way for a military base on the largest island in the Chagos group – Diego Garcia which is now a large US military base used as a launch pad for intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq.

All the while the Chagossians have been campaigning for the right to return to their homeland.’

Morris says that after a long legal battle by the Chagossians’ lawyer Richard Gifford, the islanders in 2000 won an historic High Court ruling allowing them to return to the outlying islands in the Chagos group but the British Government took out two ‘orders of council’ to bar the Chagossians from returning to the outer islands.

In 2002 and 2006, the people of the Chagos archipelago - which is between Africa and Indonesia - won court decisions declaring the British actions unlawful.

The Chagossians won another legal victory last year when the High Court ruled that the thousands of people who were tricked, starved and even terrorised from their homes could return immediately, with the decision likely to draw a line under what is widely seen as one of the most shameful episodes in British colonial history.

Sadly the British Government is to appeal yet again against the verdict with a court hearing set for later this year.

Morris added: ‘We hope to persuade the public and the politicians around the world that the Chagos people’s struggle is for basic justice and for a redress to the wrongs done to them.’

Hanford says: ‘Our ultimate aim is not just to get them back home, but to help them to achieve a hopeful and satisfying future for themselves commensurate to that of their pre-exiled lives’.

The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust has donated the money for the Let Them Return campaign to the UK Chagos Support Association who in turn have engaged Morris & Hanford.  It is the first time a PR/public affairs campaign has been formed to help the Chagossians.

Ends

Contact:
Richard Morris on 01787 312641 or 07855 429107  or Julian Hanford on 01886 822251 or 07913745530