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Chagos islanders stunned as Cameron rules out return

The former prime minister suggested that a return to the islands was now “not possible” for Chagossians who were forcibly displaced by the British government in the 1960s and 1970s…reports Asian Lite News

Britain’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, has provoked fury by abruptly ruling out the resettlement of former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands, months after his predecessor revealed that the UK was discussing their potential return.

The former prime minister suggested that a return to the islands was now “not possible” for Chagossians who were forcibly displaced by the British government in the 1960s and 1970s.

His stance stunned islanders who a year ago had celebrated the news that the UK was discussing the return of islanders along with a possible future handover of the Chagos archipelago.

On Thursday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) wrote to Cameron expressing its “extreme concern” over the apparent U-turn after a long-running campaign to repatriate Chagos islanders.

In their first official statements on the development, Chagossian groups criticised Cameron’s intervention.

Marie Sabrina Jean, the chair of the Chagos Refugees UK Group, said: “Cameron does not have any respect for human rights. The problem is that all UK politicians continue the fiction that Chagossians are not native to the islands and have no property or other rights.

“Whether the UK keeps the islands or gives them to Mauritius, the Chagossians’ rights must be restored first.”

A supporting statement from Chagossian Voices, a grassroots campaigning group, added: “It is our absolute right to return to our islands. Having forcibly removed us, the UK government has both a duty of care and a duty to facilitate our return.

“The decision as to whether it was ‘possible’ was – and remains – political.”

Cameron’s stance on the issue emerged during his evidence to a foreign affairs committee hearing on 9 January, in comments that contrasted sharply with those made by his predecessor in a written ministerial statement on 3 November 2022.

In March last year, the then foreign secretary, James Cleverly, confirmed that talks between the UK and Mauritius over the future of the Indian Ocean islands included “resettlement of the former inhabitants of the Chagos archipelago”.

Cleverly, who is now home secretary, had said in November 2022 that the aim was to reach a settlement involving the return of former islanders with Mauritius early last year. Twelve months later, Cameron took over his job despite not being an MP.

Two men protest during the legislative scrutiny of the nationality and borders bill in 2021.

The HRW letter, signed by its UK director, Yasmine Ahmed, said: “We note that your predecessor acknowledged that resettlement of the Chagossians in their homeland was part of the negotiations with Mauritius.”

According to HRW, a 2014 KPMG feasibility study – commissioned and completed when Cameron was prime minister – concluded it was possible for islanders to return.

The UK’s continuing occupation of the islands, a British territory in the Indian Ocean since 1814, has prompted widespread global opposition and two high-profile defeats in the international courts.

Justifying his intervention on the issue, Cameron highlighted security requirements and the importance of the Diego Garcia military base.

However, Cleverly’s potential agreement with Mauritius indicated that the strategic Indian Ocean military base in Diego Garcia, which the UK leases to the US, would stay open.

In fact, not even Chagossian groups were advocating for the closure of the military base, but wanted to return to live on the unoccupied islands and the unoccupied part of Diego Garcia.

Cameron also caused disquiet by failing to mention the rights of the Chagossians when discussing the future of the islands.

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