On 4th August the UK Government opened a new phase of consultations with the Chagossian people concerning a potential return to their homeland. A short report outlines potential models of resettlement, based upon a feasibility study completed early this year which the Government now accepts demonstrates that return is practically feasible (this was confirmed by Minister for Overseas Territories James Duddrigde in a letter to one of our supporters). Read the government report here.
The report provides most detail on the small-scale 'pilot resettlement' model based on Diego Garcia, which seems to indicate this is the model the Government are most likely to support, if any. There is an emphasis that this could be a first step to a larger resettlement plan.
A questionnaire which is attached to the consultation asks Chagossians about their nationality, birth place and professionals skills, amongst other things. Chagossians will decide how to respond to these questions themselves but we are happy to offer any advice.
We would encourage the Government to also engage in a much broader, more open discussion with the Chagossian people than is permitted by a rather restrictive and narrowly focused questionnaire. Direct meetings between officals and Chagossians are hinted at in the consultation
UK Chagos Support Association will issue a formal response after consulting with different Chagossian groups and discussing the details. It is though, at least a small step forward that the Government at least appear to be taking Chagossian ambitions to return home seriously. If this does represent a new commitment to open and honest engagement with the Chagossian community, we will of course be happy to support this.
However, the consultation does raise as many questions as it answers. The Government have darkly warned about “cost to British taxpayers” as an argument against return. The increase of KPMG's self-confessed “pessimistic” cost estimates by almost 50% in this new consultation document must then be challenged.
High living standards demanded by Chagossians are cited as the cause for this increased figure but elsewhere the consultation seems to acknowledge the KPMG report failed to establish the living standards expected by Chagossian returnees. There are also questions about who is eligible to return and their status upon return which must be answered.
If the Government does engage in direct meetings with Chagossians, it must also be better prepared to offer clear and meaningful guidance to Chagossians on the terms of resettlement.