the Disillusioned kid: More Anti-BIOT-ics
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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

More Anti-BIOT-ics

Celia Whittaker, Secretary of the UK Chagos Support Association, pointed me in the direction of the following Press Release on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Website, dated November 16:
Bill Rammell MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office today met with Olivier Bancoult, Chairman of the Chagos Refugees Group and other representatives of the Chagossian communities in Mauritius and Seychelles.

The Minister said:

'Following consultations with the US Authorities, the British Government has agreed to a visit by a fixed number of Chagossians to their relatives graves on Diego Garcia. The visit to these graves would be in addition to their visiting the graves on some of the outer islands of the British Indian Ocean Territory for which permission had already been granted. When we took the difficult but correct decision to stop the repopulation of the British Indian Ocean Territory I nevertheless undertook to seek to allow a visit to Diego Garcia and I am pleased that I have been able to agree this.'
As Celia points out it seems awfully gracious of him to allow a visit by the Chagossians to the homeland from which they were forcibly expelled.

That aside, don't hold your breath over this one. Similar claims have been made before and come to nothing. Those of you who saw the recent John Pilger documentary, Stealing A Nation, may remember the footage of Baroness Amos addressing the House of Lords on this very point. That trip was ultimately cancelled, ostensibly because of objections of the part of the Americans. It is telling that Rammell doesn't set a date for the visit.

On a related note, regular readers may recall my promise, sometime ago now, that I'd post about the Adjournment Debate, dealing with local authority provision for those islanders who have come to the UK, which took place on Thursday November 4. I have not forgotten about this, but after reading the debate, there was little I could think of to write. The debate went over much of the same territory as did the one on the previous day: The expulsion was bad; the Chagossians have been treated badly; we sympathise with their situation, but our resources are limited; the government have a moral duty to help local authorities support them.

One point of interest was the government response, perhaps better characterised as a non-response. Labour MP for Gillingham Paul Clark was apparently charged with putting the government case and refuses to commit on whether or not the government will provide such assistance, instead pontificating on how wonderful various pre-existing - and largely irrelevant - government programmes are.

Another point worth flagging up is the government's focus on a letter sent to "to the leading member of the Chagossian community [presumably Olivier Bancoult, although possibly Allen Vincatassin - DK] on 27 September." This warned,
Those Chagossians who are British citizens are of course free to go the United Kingdom if they wish. However, as you know, those that do exercise this right cannot expect more favourable treatment than any other British citizen going to the United Kingdom from abroad and, just like any other British citizen, they have to fulfill the normal conditions of entitlement and habitual residence before qualifying for social security benefits etc. These entitlements are clearly set out in the leaflet which accompanies each new passport issued to members of your community by the British High Commission passport section.
On the basis of this letter, Clark seems to be insinuating that the government have excused themselves from any moral duty to support the Chagossians who have come to the UK. In my opinion, in light of the government's history with regard to the Chagossians this is abhorrent. Having forced them from their homes, dumped them in poverty and prevented them from returning, it strikes me that allowing them to come to the UK and live here is the very least the government can do, although allowing them to return to the islands they consider home would be preferable.

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