The following is a BIOT Policy Review submission from Richard Gifford on behalf of the Chagos Refugees Group:
"Dear Dr Ahuja,
Many thanks for your email. I am pleased that there is at last an open-minded review of the shameful policy of Exile of the population of the Chagos Archipelago.
As you know I represent the present majority of the deported population of the Chagos islands, and in 2001 was authorised by no less than 4,287 Chagossians to pursue their rights of compensation and return. I therefore represent both the Chagos Refugees Group in Mauritius and the Chagos Social Committee (Seychelles), to whom this submission is copied.
As you will know, the deportation of the population as a deliberate act of FCO policy was declared unlawful by the High Court in November 2000. The right of return of Chagossians was recognised by the then Foreign Secretary, and he stated that the feasibility study (which was designed to provide a full cost benefit analysis for structuring a return programme) was then well under way.
It is quite remarkable that over 12 years later, the islanders have been denied their right of return, and on the contrary, the FCO has done everything in its power to frustrate this fundamental right. Despite condemnation by various courts and judges, successive appeals have been pursued by the last government, at enormous cost to the taxpayer, in order to justify the abolition of the Right of Abode in 2004 which was designed to frustrate the hopes raised by the court and the Foreign secretary in 2000.
In the front seat which I occupy in witnessing this unusual persecution of a formerly carefree people, various issues have become clear.
First, the tactics adopted to justify the policy of Exile have varied over time, but have bordered on the reprehensible, and cast little credit on our conduct of relations with our overseas territories. I attach a paper delivered to Southampton University in November 2009 dealing with the historical aspects of some of these tactics. I urge you to understand that recent manoeuvres by the FCO under the last government are to be seen in the same light as this historical maladministration.
Second, that since 2000 Ministers have consistently failed to get on top of this sensitive dossier, and left it in the hands of officials. The current foreign Secretary Mr Hague promised while in Opposition a "fair settlement" for Chagossians and endorsed his then deputy Keith Hampson MP who went so far as to say, in opposition that " “…there should at the very least be a timetable for the return of those people to the outer islands. The Foreign Office should recognise that the House of Commons feels very strongly on that”. And The Dep. Prime Minister stated prior to the last election that "the Government has a moral responsibility to allow these people to at last return home.”. The likely influence of officials on these promises is demonstrated by the view announced by the last Minister of state to have considered the policy of Exile, Henry Bellingham MP who, having in office supported the policy of Exile, stated after leaving office that he was in favour of resettlement (see the Times report dated 28.3.13).
Third, the recent disclosure of the file on the 2002 feasibility study (eventually produced after denials of its existence, in May 2012) has enabled insight to be gained into how the conclusion of the study ("costly and precarious") was procured to reflect the views of officials and lacked a scientific basis. This in turn has permitted fresh studies to be examined and obtained which show the contrary. These new studies demonstrate the faults of the phase 2B study, namely the absence of sea level rise over the past 20 years, as a result of the phenomenon known as the Indian Ocean Dipole (the Global and Planetary Change paper), the critique of the Phase 2b study by Prof Paul Kench (which shows that it misunderstood the effect of wave patterns and erosion on small islands) and the Returning Home paper by CRG/Dr John Howell (which demonstrate the ease of returning a first wave of 750 Chagossians and the activities which could be sustainably maintained there).
Fourth, the resettlement of BIOT is eminently feasible and achievable within reasonable costs constraints (see letter from Stephen Akester of McAlister Elliott & Ptnrs, one of the FCO's own consultants whose views were suppressed until February 2011). The availability of funding from DFID and other international institutions is described in the "Returning Home" report. I should mention that the Conservation Lobby attacked the returning Home report by suggesting that the Outer Islands were not able to carry a sufficiently long runway to accommodate aircraft flying from Mauritius. But this criticism was based on the distance involved, Mauritius being approximately 1,000 miles from BIOT. In fact, as Stephen Akester points out, there is an international airport at Gan, in the Maldives, which is only about 290 miles from BIOT, so a much smaller airstrip would be required for aircraft travelling from Gan to BIOT.
Fifth, the claimed reasons for the policy of Exile (Defence, Feasibility and costs) are all lacking in substance and contradicted by the known facts. My letter dated 15.11.10 to Minister Bellingham explained all of these matters, and included some powerful support from e.g. a former Asst Sec. Of State for Defense in the US Administration (Dr L. Korb), who stated that:
“ Whilst there is no doubt that Diego Garcia is a critical base for projecting U.S. power throughout the greater Middle east, there is no good reason why allowing the Chagossians to return would undermine the mission in any way”
There has never been any explanation for the adoption of these claimed policy reasons, a serious failure of Government given the unique persecution of an entire population of British citizens that it inflicts. Mr Bellingham never replied to this letter, neither has Mr Simmonds, and it must be supposed that the arguments put forward in these letters are tacitly accepted.
I attach my recent letter to Mr. Mark Simmonds dated 3.6.13 with its annexures (including the letter to Mr Bellingham dated 15.11.10) which demonstrate all of the above matters. Also attached is the historical perspective in the Southampton university paper.
There is now a large volume of evidence that resettlement is fully feasible, and the question to be addressed is precisely how this should be achieved.
Although you mention " that a new feasibility study is something that a number of stakeholders would like us to put forward", it is vital to see this suggestion in the true context of a manipulated study, which was used to deny the right of abode and failed to reach a justifiable conclusion. It wasted a period from its inception in 1999 to date, more than 13 years, in the exile of an ageing population, during which time many of the older folk, who most regret their exile, and wish to return home, have died.
Any such further study should therefore be predicated upon:
a) The immediate restoration of the Right of Abode. This can be achieved by the same Order in Council procedure as was used to secure the Exile and abolish the Right of abode. It will not need Parliamentary time. The arguments for passing the Orders in Council in 2004 were never valid and have been largely discredited, as we can see from Mr Bellingham's acceptance of the case for resettlement.
b) The establishment in a tight timescale of a reputable team of experienced resettlement experts (some of whom should be appointed by the Chagossian community and their advisers), with terms of reference modelled on the original Stage II of the 1999 Terms of reference. A proximate date should be set for a report and for a decision on the form of the resettlement programme. Most Importantly, any new study should not start from scratch and waste further time, but proceed to the Cost Benefit analysis provided at Stage II of the original TOR (attached).
c)Funding should be provided pending the results of this study, for consulting the Chagossian community and seeking its members who wish to return, or who prefer to visit and to know what their expectations are. All funding possibilities should be investigated by FCO to include the European Development Fund, Sovereign Wealth funds etc
c) A compensation Commission should be established to provide reparation for individual Chagossians, to include those who were excluded from previous payment arrangements, and with pension entitlement for the elderly who are not able by reason of their advancing years to return permanently to their homeland.
In view of the importance of the population that I represent, and who, I suggest are rather more than mere "stakeholders", I would request an opportunity to discuss these issues at a meeting. I would expect to be able to attend with expert advisers who may not separately be able to make individual submissions.
With many thanks for your interest,