Chagossians say extension of agreement for US to use Diego Garcia as military base is yet another betrayal by UK
New Years Eve marks the conclusion of a 50-year agreement under which the UK has allowed the US to use the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia as a military base. On New Years Day the agreement will be rolled over into a new one lasting a further 20 years.
The agreement lay behind the forcible removal of residents from the Chagos Islands, of which Diego Garcia is the main island, triggering a battle for their right to return home that has lasted for half a century.
This month Frankie Bontemps, the chair of the Chagos Islanders Welfare Group, joined with exiles and their descendants to hand in a letter to Downing Street demanding their right to return. Bontemps said the 50-year anniversary was a painful reminder of what they had lost.
Christmas should be a time to feel secure and happy in our homes and with our families. For Chagossians it marks the 50th anniversary of our expulsion from our homes and homeland to make way for a US airbase, he said.
Since being abandoned by the UK government we have been impoverished and neglected by the policies of successive UK governments. Forbidden from returning to our homeland, we continue the fight for humanity, justice and the restoration of our human rights. We have been British citizens for 200 years, but are treated as undesirable aliens. Happy Christmas and peace on Earth to all.
The government has consistently rejected the Chagossians pleas that they should be allowed to resettle on the islands. For the Chagossians supporters, the extension of the agreement with the US represents yet another betrayal by the UK.
It is a missed and wasted opportunity, said David Snoxell, coordinator of the Chagos Islands all-party parliamentary group and a former British high commissioner to Mauritius. The end of the 50 years was a deadline to bring the whole thing to an end and enshrine a new UK/US agreement that would confirm the willingness of both parties to allow and facilitate a pilot resettlement, preferably on Diego Garcia.
Campaigners have pledged to continue fighting for the Chagossians right of abode to be recognisedBut the government seems to have little interest in the Chagossians demands now that it has decided Diego Garcia should continue to be used exclusively as a military base. In a statement to parliament last month, the foreign minister Alan Duncan defended the UKs decision to extend the agreement with the US until December 2036.
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, Duncan said.
A three-year policy review for the government concluded that the Chagossians should not be allowed to return, citing concerns over the cost and long-term viability of resettlement. Ministers had previously accepted that a return as outlined in a Foreign Office-commissioned report by the consultants KPMG was practically feasible.
As a form of compensation, the government has offered the Chagossians a support package of 40m spread across 10 years, to be spent on community projects. But exiled community figures living in Britain say the money can never be an adequate alternative to the right to live in their homeland.