Photo: United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office
In a historic meeting on Monday the British Foreign Secretary met representatives of the Chagos people who were expelled from their islands more than forty years ago.
Foreign Secretary William Hague invited the Chagos representatives to a meeting following May’s Chagos Regagné conference on the possibility of a science station and eco-village on Chagos. Ben Fogle and Philippa Gregory, patrons of the UK Chagos Support Association, accompanied chair Roch Evenor and vice chair Marcus Booth to the Foreign Office where they were welcomed by Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, who expressed his support for their cause.
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WHAT HAPPENED TO THE CHAGOS ARCHIPELAGO ?
Chagos International Support
Very few people in the world seem to be aware of the manner in which the inhabitants of Diego Garcia, Peros Bahnos and Salomon Islands – all part of the Chagos Archipelago – were deported in the 1970s. These inhabitants, who number a few thousands, were forcibly gathered and placed aboard the ship Nordvaer and sent to Seychelles and Mauritius. They were left on their own and have lived in poverty since then.
However, shortly after the deportation of the Chagossians, the island of Diego Garcia was ceded to U.S.A pursuant to an Agreement between UK and USA, to be used as a communication station, which, soon after, was rapidly transformed into a military base harbouring highly modern and sophisticated armaments.
Many at the time believed that in the context of the cold war that there was a need to install and maintain a military presence in the Indian Ocean. The era of the cold war is today over. We should therefore all be looking into a broader perspective and we should ask ourselves how could a legitimate population that number a few thousands, pause a threat to anyone in the area?
The exiled Chagossians are to-day spread in several groups and live mainly in Mauritius, Seychelles and London. Almost single-handedly they have been struggling to return to their native islands and are now awaiting a decision of the European Court of Justice for Human Rights over their right to live in their homeland. The Government of Mauritius has, after 40 years, finally woken up to the plight of the Chagossians and has recently challenged Britain's decision to create a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). It has taken the British Government to the United Nations Tribunal for the Law of the Sea over the matter. A decision from the Tribunal is expected by 2013.
As the Chagos saga unfolds, we are witnessing today the rise of an unprecedented worldwide awareness of the case. Chagos International Support basic purpose is to support at the international level the legitimate aspiration of Chagossians to return and live in their homeland.
To-day we move in an ever changing world where democracy permeates societies and nations. The Chagos Archipelago case can be solved peacefully through the fostering of a good spirit of dialogue and goodwill amongst all the stakeholders and endeavouring to lift all obstacles that impede in the way of the legitimate right of Chagossians to live in their homeland.
This is a legitimate aspiration that nobody should deny them in the 21st century. The great powers active in the region should understand that the right to live in one’s homeland is a fundamental basic human right and come to terms with it.