the Disillusioned kid: Holidays in the Sun, Part 3.
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Friday, October 01, 2004

Holidays in the Sun, Part 3.

A few weeks back I posted on the trip, organised by WEXAS International, to the Chagos Archipelago (more on the history of which here). I also suggested that readers might want to write to Simon McMahon, the suggested contact. I have no idea if anyone else actually did, but I eventually got around to writing and sending the following:
Dear Sir,

I am writing to you as you are listed as a contact for further information on the trip, organised by WEXAS international, to the Chagos Archipelago, due to take place in April and May of next year.

Your website describes the trip as ?a rare opportunity to explore these unspoilt islands and snorkel in some of the world's most untouched coral atolls.? This may be strictly true, but the implication that the islands are and always have been uninhabited is untrue.

Are aware that the population of the islands were removed from their homes, in some cases forcibly, by the British Government between 1965 and 1973 in order to make way for a US military base on Diego Garcia? Or that they have subsequently been prevented from returning by various machinations on the part of successive British regimes, culminating in the Orders in Council passed in June (without any democratic oversight) which prohibit them from setting foot on the islands without permission?

I?m sure you will agree these are serious issues. What message is being sent out if you and your clients are able to visit the island while those forced from their homes, and in many cases condemned to live in poverty, are not? Have you considered inviting representatives of the Chagossian population along for the trip to provide some historical context?

I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,
[Disillusioned kid]
Very diplomatic, I'm sure you'll agree.

I was unsure whether I'd get a response at all and even less sure of what form it would take. To my surprise they got back to me very quickly, although their response is not entirely convincing:
Dear [Disillusioned kid]

Simon Mcmahon at WEXAS has passed on to me your e-mail about the Chagos trip since I am the person organising it.

I am fully aware of the situation of the Ilois people and have been following this sorry affair for some thirty years now. Your e-mail implies that we should not be going to the islands. However I do believe that this relatively unspoilt environment can best be conserved through awareness and an eco trip of this kind can, I believe, help that process. The islands are threatened by illegal fishing and by feral cats and rats (which have already wiped out several bird species), as well as by the effects of global warming on the reef structure and on the sea level. The coconut plantations of the last two centuries have done extensive damage to the indigenous hardwood species. My point is that a higher profile for the islands can do something to encourage funds that will move in the direction of resolving or relieving these problems.

The trip is strictly apolitical and is being led by Dr Mark Spalding, one of three UK experts on the ecology of the islands (the others being Prof David Stoddart and Dr Charles Sheppard, both of whom I have been in touch with).


(Dr) Ian Wilson
This strikes me as a further example of what I described in my last post on the issue as "the time honoured practice of burying your head in the sand". Note that Wilson's list of ecological threats to the islands does not include the presence of an extensive US military base, which somehow escapes mention at all.

The response also appears to be logically inconsistent. Wilson claims that "the trip is strictly apolitical", suggesting that it will not confront questions about the treatment of the Ilois ('islanders'). If this is the case it is difficult to see how it can raise awareness about their plight as he seems to be implying it will. In addition with a price tag of £4,250 and only a handful of places the only thing the trip is likely to raise is money.

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