What about the Chagossian refugees?

The ongoing migrant/refugee crisis currently battering the European Union brings to mind the still unresolved issue of the Chagossian refugees. The willingness of some European countries and the US to accept a fairly large number of refugees, mostly Syrians, contrasts singularly with the treatment meted out to the handful of Chagossian refugees by the US and UK.

It would be recalled that it will soon be nearly half a century when these unfortunate people were forcefully lifted out of their land of birth and literally dumped in Mauritius (and some in Seychelles), without any adequate preparation for their settling down in terms of housing or means of living. They were left to fend for themselves.

This paper has consistently supported their cause of right of return to their motherland, which was excised from Mauritius under duress at the time of the negotiations for the independence of Mauritius and morphed into a British Indian Ocean Territory. More than enough has been ventilated in the public domain on the events at the time of excision and no further elaboration is needed at this point.

We saluted the efforts of Olivier Bancoult, whose perseverance and courage took their problem as far as the US authorities. Hope was kindled that the Chagossians would soon enough be gratified, over and above the overdue and legitimate compensation that they were given, with a return to their land – following a judgement in a UK High court.

Alas, we didn’t reckon with the obstinacy of the British government, probably in consultation with the US which has a base in Diego Garcia. It has come up with all manner of obstacles in the way of first, refusing to acknowledge the sovereignty of Mauritius over the Chagos archipelago – was setting up a Marine Protected Area a ‘colourable device’ to thwart further attempts at getting due redress? — and second, in allowing the return of the Chagossians. They are back to square one.

Prime Minister Sir Anerood Jugnauth is due to attend the UN General Assembly in New York shortly. He will be meeting a number of key leaders, including those of the US, UK and France, and also as is customary will be making an address at the General Assembly. The previous dispensation in this country has taken several steps in support of the dual issues of sovereignty and the resettlement of the Chagossians, and the matter been raised at the General Assembly too over the past years.

The difference this time is there is a golden opportunity for the Prime Minister to flag in particular the matter of resettlement: among the countries that are raising such a hue and cry about the Syrian refugees being forced out of their motherland, and are prepared to take in several thousands, are the UK and the US too. Perhaps the Prime Minister should draw the attention of the world community to this double standard in the handling of these two refugee situations by these two countries?

Admittedly, the present European refugee crisis, by its sheer scale and the overwhelming logistical problems it is causing will dominate proceedings and debates at the General Assembly. But this should not obviate the fact that while the current European refugee problem has reached crisis proportions only recently, a few weeks, it is nearly 50 years that the Chagossian refugees have been suffering from an equally stressful and tiresome chronic crisis.

Surely the world community should realise their long suffering and Mauritius should highlight this aspect while seeking support at the UN to resolve their plight once for all, that it is more than high time that justice be rendered to these hapless victims? Why should they be sacrificed in the name of the geopolitical imperatives that are being played out in their region?

Mauritius is mature enough to appreciate these imperatives for the military and general security of the West, of the world for that matter, and precisely because of its understanding of and cooperation for that purpose, the least that both ethics and justice demand is that its plea for the Chagossian refugees, placed under its responsibility, not only be heard but be resolved. Realistically, they do not pose any security threat to the US military base there. After all, the US has several bases around the world which are functioning in the midst of the local populations, which are much larger in numbers. Their reluctance to have the Chagossians around is based on what apprehensions? – we don’t see any of any major significance whatsoever.

Let us hope and pray then that the Prime Minister’s intervention at the UN General Assembly will trigger a fresh look to be taken at theplight of the Chagossian refugees, and some concrete measure be initiated to secure their future in as humane a manner as is being undertaken for the refugees now flooding the gates of the European Union.

  • Published in print edition on 18 September 2015

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