The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 53rd meeting on 10 February.The chairman welcomed new members Helen Goodman MP and Mike Kane MP.
The Group noted the intervention by Alan Brown in the debate on 10 December, International Human Rights Day, in which he recalled the forcible eviction of the Chagos Islanders from their homeland so that the US could set up an airbase on Diego Garcia – “The Government told lies over the years and there was obfuscation about what had happened.” The Chairman’s second PQ on funding elicited a significant shift from the FCO’s previous line (that a decision on resettlement would be taken before considering funding sources) with the reply that “The Government will consider all funding sources in its decision on resettlement”. But a PQ on when Ministers had last met Chagossian representatives was side-stepped with the reply that “It would be inappropriate to meet Chagossians until the results of this consultation have been considered”.
Members discussed the ‘Summary of Responses to Public Consultation’ issued by the FCO on 21 January, noting that of the 895 responses from Chagossians 98% were in favour of resettlement. They commended the FCO for this survey but wondered why it had not been undertaken by KPMG in their feasibility study, published exactly a year ago on 10 February 2015, and why it should take a further year.
The Chairman reported on an inconclusive meeting that he and Henry Smith had on 4 February with James Duddridge, the Minister responsible for Chagos in the FCO. Members felt that all parties of the APPG should participate in a meeting with the Minister before a decision on resettlement was taken, for an in-depth discussion of the issues. They reiterated their long standing invitation to the Minister to meet the Group in Parliament.
The Group discussed the exchange of letters between the Chairman and Mr Duddridge concerning compensation for the Chagossians who were removed to Seychelles. While it was understood that the Seychelles Chagossians were seeking judicial review of the Government’s refusal to pay compensation members reaffirmed their view that they should be compensated on the same basis as those who were deported to Mauritius. The Group asked the Chairman to reply and reiterate this principle, pointing out the inaccuracies in the FCO letter.
Members discussed what more the Group could do to ensure that the Government, not just the FCO, was fully aware of the issues in the remaining weeks before a decision on resettlement was taken. They decided that the Chairman should write to the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Prime Minister and President Obama. Members would make contact with other and former ministers. The attached statement was agreed.
The next meeting of the Group is on 13 April unless an emergency meeting becomes necessary in the meantime.
Coordinator of the APPG
Chagos Islands (BIOT) All Party Parliamentary Group Hon. President: Jeremy Corbyn MP Chairman: Andrew Rosindell MP Vice Chairs: Lord Ramsbotham Lord Avebury Henry Smith MP Baroness Whitaker; Dr Paul Monaghan MP Secretary/Treasurer: Alan Brown MP Co-ordinator: David Snoxell House of Commons, London, SW1A OAA
Statement by the Chagos Islands (BIOT) APPG on 10 February 2016 The Group, which was established in December 2008 with the purpose of helping to bring about a resolution of the issues concerning the future of the Chagossians and of the Chagos Islands, held its 53rd meeting on 10 February. There are 43 members from all ten political parties in Parliament, as well as cross-bench peers. The Group thus represents the views of a broad cross section of politicians. The issue of resettlement of the Chagossian people, who were expelled from their homeland between 1968 – 1973 to make way for a US base on Diego Garcia, has been raised on numerous occasions in Parliament since the 1970s. There have been regular parliamentary debates since 2000 when the then Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, restored the right to return to the Outer Islands. This right was overturned by Orders in Council in 2004. A great deal of public resources has been deployed in preventing the Chagossians from returning home but in 2012 William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, commissioned a policy review of resettlement. This included a feasibility study into resettlement by KPMG. That study, published a year ago today, concluded that there were no insuperable barriers to resettlement. A recent FCO consultation of interested parties showed that some 895 or 98% of Chagossians, who responded, were in favour of resettlement. The Group has long argued that resettlement costs should be shared between the aid programme, the US, EU Development Fund, other international funding sources and the private sector. The Government is due to make a decision on resettlement in the next few weeks. Members of the APPG believe that the twenty year extension of the 1966 UK/US Agreement, which made the islands available for defence purposes and is renewable from 30 December, should be conditional on the Chagossians being allowed to return. It will be for both parties to agree where the resettlement should be situated. While for conservation, financial and practical reasons the Group believes that Diego Garcia is the more suitable site members also acknowledge that for reasons of security the US might prefer the Outer Islands. The Government should consider the international and domestic implications of this momentous decision. To allow the Chagossian people to return would be in the UK’s long standing tradition of upholding the human rights of dispossessed people. Not to do so would have long lasting negative consequences for the UK’s reputation and how it is perceived in the world. In any case the international and domestic campaign for the return of Chagossians who wish to do so will continue. A renewal of the UK/US agreement this year which allows resettlement would be part of President Obama’s legacy. It is a unique opportunity to rectify this relic from the Cold War and put right the wrongs of the past. On the eve of a judgment by the Supreme Court, the Group urges the Government to recognise the Chagossian right of abode and to extend compensation to those who were removed to the Seychelles.