Chagos Islands

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:45 pm on 28th October 2015.

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Photo of Paul Monaghan Paul Monaghan Scottish National Party, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross 4:45 pm, 28th October 2015

The islands are an archipelago. There are hundreds of islands and more than enough space for everyone.

In 1982, when the truth leaked out, the islanders exiled from Mauritius were awarded derisory compensation of less than £3,000 per person. Those exiled to Seychelles were awarded no compensation. It was noted then that it had been

“entirely improper, unethical, dictatorial to have the Chagossian put their thumbprint on an English legal, drafted document, where the Chagossian, who doesn’t read, know or speak any English, let alone any legal English, is made to renounce basically all his rights as a human being.”

Was the annexation improper? Certainly. Unethical? I have no doubt. Dictatorial? Absolutely. Those are strong words, but that is exactly how the UK Government have treated and continue to treat the people of Chagos. That is what the Minister is here today to explain.

I understand that Diego Garcia remains the United States’ largest military base outside north America. There are two runways, over 30 warships, more than 4,000 troops and a satellite spy station located on the island. The base has been used as a launch pad for invasions, including those of both Afghanistan and Iraq. It is still in use, and that use is still encouraged by the UK Government.

In 1966, terms for the lease of Diego Garcia were agreed at $1 a year. On expulsion, the indigenous population were allowed to take just one suitcase each. They were forced into the hold of the SS Nordvaer and transported to Seychelles, where they were held in prison cells before being transited elsewhere, many to Mauritius. Wherever they were sent, they were left without financial support.

A Foreign Office memo on the subject at the time, from Sir Paul Gore-Booth to diplomat Denis Greenhill, stated:

“We must surely be very tough about this. The object of the exercise was to get some rocks which will remain ours; there will be no indigenous population except seagulls…The United States Government will require the removal of the entire population of the atoll.”

Denis Greenhill replied in August 1966:

“Unfortunately, along with the birds go some few Tarzans or Men Fridays whose origins are obscure and who are hopefully being wished on to Mauritius etc. When this has been done I agree we must be very tough and a submission is being done accordingly.”

It is impossible for the UK Government to hide behind that correspondence. The casual disregard for human life it evidences is chillingly calculated, unambiguous and staggering. Nevertheless that “tough” action provoked legal action that has ultimately led to all of us being here for this debate today.