My right Honourable Friend, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns), has made the following written Ministerial statement:
On 24 March 2016 the former Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) informed the House that the Government would be carrying out further work on its review of resettlement policy in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). I would now like to inform Parliament of two decisions which have been made concerning the future of BIOT.
Parliament will be aware of the Government’s review and consultation over the resettlement of the Chagossian people to BIOT. The manner in which the Chagossian community was removed from the Territory in the 1960s and 1970s, and the way they were treated, was wrong and we look back with deep regret. We have taken care in coming to our final decision on resettlement, noting the community’s emotional ties to BIOT and their desire to go back to their former way of life.
This comprehensive programme of work included an independent feasibility study followed by a full public consultation in the UK, Mauritius and the Seychelles.
I am today announcing that the Government has decided against resettlement of the Chagossian people to the British Indian Ocean Territory on the grounds of feasibility, defence and security interests, and cost to the British taxpayer. In coming to this decision the Government has considered carefully the practicalities of setting up a small remote community on low-lying islands and the challenges that any community would face. These are significant, and include the challenge of effectively establishing modern public services, the limited healthcare and education that it would be possible to provide, and the lack of economic opportunities, particularly job prospects. The Government has also considered the interaction of any potential community with the US Naval Support Facility – a vital part of our defence relationship.
The Government will instead seek to support improvements to the livelihoods of Chagossians in the communities where they now live. I can today announce that we have agreed to fund a package of approximately £40 million over the next ten years to achieve this goal. This money addresses the most pressing needs of the community by improving access to health and social care and to improved education and employment opportunities. Moreover, this fund will support a significantly expanded programme of visits to BIOT for native Chagossians. The Government will work closely with Chagossian communities in the UK and overseas to develop cost-effective programmes which will make the biggest improvement in the life chances of those Chagossians who need it most.
Parliament will also be aware that the agreements underpinning the UK/US defence facility will roll over automatically on 31 December if neither side breaks silence. In an increasingly dangerous world, the defence facility is used by us and our allies to combat some of the most difficult problems of the 21st century including terrorism, international criminality, instability and piracy. I can today confirm that the UK continues to welcome the US presence, and that the agreements will continue as they stand until 30 December 2036.
It will come as no surprisethat
the UK Chagos Support Association are deeply saddened by the Government’s
recent decision against pilot resettlement of the Chagos Islands. The decision
came as a shock to us and has paralysed many in the community.
a group dedicated to supporting the people of the Chagos Islands, we do not
speak on their behalf. However we are in regular contact with many in the
Chagossian community and those conversations have formed the basis of our
UK Chagos Support Association do not accept the Government’s decision. We
believe it was based on flawed evidence and we will support the Chagossian
community however they choose to respond.
we welcome the Government’s new commitment to “improving the lives of the
Chagossians in the places where they are now” and we hope we can work
constructively with both Government and the Chagossian community to come to a
settlement that works for both parties.
regards theWritten Ministerial
announced the decision, while we are pleased that the Government acknowledged
that historic treatment of Chagossians was wrong, we believe it should be
acknowledged as illegal. The basis of Chagossian exile was a falsehood and
should be recognised as such.
is also misleading to suggest Chagossians wanted to “go back to their former
way of life.” TheForeign Office consultationdemonstrated Chagossians understood
that life on the returned islands would be different from the life they used to
lead. There was great enthusiasm for modern industries like eco-tourism,
environmental protection and administrative roles within BIOT and the US base.
enthusiasm found in the consultation was matched by requisite skill found in
which states, “the wide range of employment skills present in the Chagossian
community has allowed the team to identify major livelihood options for a
resettled community”. This seriously brings into question the Government’s
concerns around “job prospects”.
are not naive. They are aware of the challenges that return presents. But all
these challenges were accounted for in the KPMG study - on which after
completion, Ministers accepted return was “practically feasible”
KPMG study also addressed security and defence concerns - concerns that have
never been properly outlined. Almost all US military bases have an attached
civilian population and the base on Diego Garcia has a large population of
temporary labourers. The statement says that Ministers had “considered the
interaction of any potential community with the US Naval Support Facility”,
which prompts the question; what are the outcomes of these considerations?
idea that “costs to the British taxpayer” are a barrier is difficult to accept
and frankly insulting. Firstly, many Chagossians are the British taxpayers
mentioned. Moreover, the £60m resettlement start-up costs over three years are
a tiny proportion of the international aid budget, over which citizens of
British Overseas Territories have first call. We would also expect
contributions from the US, the EU, the private sector and NGOs.
absolutely welcome the Government’s new commitment to make “improvements to the
livelihoods of Chagossians in the communities where they now live” and are
willing to work with the Government to make this happen. However, we are
sceptical of the £40m funding package.
fund’s stated aim is to “[address] the most pressing needs of the community by
improving access to health and social care and to improved education and employment
opportunities”. This raises a number of questions: how was the fund calculated?
What will it be spent on? How will it reach the community? Who will be eligible
to receive it?
know that the fund will “support a significantly expanded programme of visits
to BIOT for native Chagossians”. Visits to BIOT (the Government name for the
Chagos Islands) used to take place almost annually - what does a “significantly
expanded programme” mean? It is also vital that the criteria of ‘native’ is
clarified. If it only means those who were born on the islands then anyone
under the age of 40 will be excluded, robbing younger Chagossians of their
identity and links to their birthplace.
are extremely serious problems affecting the Chagossian community that urgently
need to be addressed and could be with minimal funding.
are routinely torn apart because the Home Office does not recognise Chagossian
identity. Many Chagossians have been deported or are in Immigration Removal
Centres. Simply trying to keep a family together is an inconceivable challenge
to many - costing time and money and removing any chances of social or economic
the Government is to do just one thing to improve the lives of Chagossians
where they are now, it must be to fix the immigration laws that are literally
ripping their community apart. One Chagossian put it very poignantly; “these
laws are causing a second exile”.
do not accept the decision and we will support Chagossians in any campaign they
mount against it. However it is also important that we hold the
Government to account on their commitment to improving the lives of
is embarrassing that the Government threw away such a perfect opportunity to
right a historical wrong. To address these laws would at least offer them some
redemption - but crucially it would offer some hope to a community that has
been on history’s losing side for far too long.