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Friday, October 08, 2004

Home From Home

John Pilger has written a very good article on the plight of the Chagossians and the machinations which forced them from their homes. It covers much of the same ground as his documentary on the issue, shown on Wednesday, but there is some additional material and much even careful viewers may have missed.

In other Chagos related news, 45 displaced Diego Garcian islanders were due to be arriving at Gatwick Airport today, accompanied by community leader Allen Vincatassin, seeking a new life. They are already British citizens (as are all Chagossians) and hope by traveling to the UK to escape the poverty trap, find work and better education for their families and become self-sufficient and independent.

This is not the first time that exiled islanders have traveled to the UK in search of a better life, as the British Indian Ocean Territory Islanders' Movement explain in their press release (from which all this information is drawn):
On 16th of September 2002 a pioneer group of 19 Diego Garcians came with their leader Allen Vincatassin. They had to remain at Gatwick Airport for three days and nights until West Sussex County Council agreed to accommodate them for a period of six months, after which they would become entitled to state benefits. A second group of 50 people arrived at Gatwick in March 2003. A third group of 30 arrived at Heathrow, in June 2003 and experienced complications. A High Court Order was used to get WSCC to accommodate them.

All of these people have managed to find jobs, are integrating successfully into British society and are contributing to the British Economy.
More will be arriving on October 20 and in January 2005. They warn, "Supporting the group could cost taxpayers half-a-million pounds. If WSCC refuses assistance, the islanders will ask for a judicial review. Exactly what will happen when the group arrives remains to be seen!"

The BIOTIM explain the reasons why the group is coming to the UK:
On the 3rd November 2000 the High Court upheld the islanders? right to return to the outer islands in the BIOT. A feasibility study was commissioned, creating an expectation in the community that they could return and rebuild their life and culture, and enjoy self-determination, peace and freedom. But on June 10th 2004, this decision was overturned by two Orders in Council, which denied this right to abode. Their hopes dashed, these British Citizens resolved to come to the UK.
Alongside their efforts to relocate to the UK, the islanders continue to fight to be allowed to return to their homes and for compensation. They have as yet been unsuccessful in achieving the former and have lost all their court battles for the latter. Nonetheless, "Allen Vincatassin has appointed a new legal team (Phil Shiner of the Public Interest Lawyers) to represent the islanders in case WSCC refuses to accommodate them, and also to explore the possibility of further legal action regarding compensation."

The parallels with the plight of immigrants from across the world are obvious, but this case is qualitatively different in one major element, which bears repeating: the islanders are British citizens. How would the media and wider society respond if Falklands Islanders were treated in a similar way? They, of course, are predominantly white, while the Chagossians are black.

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