15-Letter to the Clerk of the Committee
from the Parliamentary Relations and Devolution Team, Foreign
and Commonwealth Office |
Thank you for your letter of 14 November requesting
an update on the Government's policy towards the Chagos Islanders.
We accept, and regret, that the way that the
resettlement of the Chagos Islanders in Mauritius and the Seychelles
in the years 1969 to 1973 was carried out resulted in hardship
for some of them. We do not seek to justify the actions taken
in the 1960s and 1970s. But the Government's policy must deal
with the situation as it exists in 2005.
On 15 June 2004, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary
of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr. Bill Rammell
outlined to the House of Commons in a written statement the Government's
policy for the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). This provided
the complex background to the Committee's question. The policy
outlined in the Statement has not changed and his statement is
attached to this reply.
Our treatment of the Chagossians after 1967
resulted in the UK Government paying substantial compensation
to the Chagossian community in Mauritiusover £14 million
at today's prices. This included a £4 million ex gratia payment
made in 1982. The islanders were advised at the time by their
lawyers that this represented a fair and reasonable settlement.
The judgment of Mr Justice Ouseley in Chagos Islands v (1)
The Attorney General; (2) Her Majesty's British Indian Ocean Territory
Commissioner  EWHC 2222 (QB) examined thoroughly the
circumstances in which the 1982 settlement was reached and accepted
it as being in full and final settlement of all claims. The judgment
established that the UK had no legal obligation to pay any further
compensation. The judgment was upheld by the Court of Appeal in
July 2004. The UK Government remains unconvinced by arguments
that any further review would be justified.
On 10 June 2004, two Orders in Council were
made under the Royal Prerogative: the British Indian Ocean Territory
(Constitution) Order 2004 and the British Indian Ocean Territory
(Immigration) Order 2004. The Orders restored full immigration
control over the islands. This decision was taken only after long
and careful consideration. A member of the Chagossian community
in Mauritius, Olivier Bancoult, has brought a judicial review
of the Orders. This will be heard from 6 to 12 December 2005,
with judgment expected in 2006. Our position remains as stated
by Mr. Rammell in the Adjournment Debate about the British Indian
Ocean Territory on 7 July 2004: "an independent feasibility
study concluded that resettlement of the outer islands on anything
other than a short-term and purely subsistence basis would be
highly precarious and would entail expensive underwriting by the
British Government for an open-ended period, and probably permanently".
Equally, as stated by Mr. Rammell in that Debate, the restoration
of full immigration control over the entire Territory was necessary
to ensure and maintain the availability and effective use of the
Territory for defence purposes, for which it was in fact constituted
and set aside in accordance with the UK's treaty obligations to
the United States.
Most Chagossians in Mauritius have integrated
well into the life of that country. The majority are full citizens
of Mauritius and therefore enjoy equal rights with other Mauritians.
When Mauritius became independent, Mauritian citizenship was conferred
on everyone born in Mauritius by that date, including those born
in that part of the British Indian Ocean Territory that had previously
been part of the colony of Mauritius. Those Chagossians of Seychelles
origin similarly became full citizens of Seychelles on its independence.
The British Overseas Territories Act 2002 granted
British Citizenship to Overseas Territories citizens, including
a large number of Chagossians. Such citizenship carries with it
the right of abode in the UK, which some Chagossians have already
taken up, and freedom of access to other EU countries. This has
been widely welcomed by the Chagossian communities in Mauritius,
Seychelles and elsewhere. This is an indication of the Government's
commitment to our responsibilities.
The UK Government remains in regular contact
with the Chagossian communities in Mauritius and the Seychelles
through its High Commissions in those countries. In co-operation
with the Government of Mauritius, we are planning a "humanitarian"
visit for a group of 100 Chagossians from Mauritius and Seychelles
to visit the gravesites of their relatives on Diego Garcia and
two outer islands of the Territory in 2006. The UK Government
is fully committed to ensuring the success of this visit.
Parliamentary Relations and Devolution Team
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
7 December 2005
FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH AFFAIRS
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for
Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Bill Rammell): I would like
to inform the House of developments in relation to the British
Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).
In 1965, prior to Mauritius achieving independence
in 1968, and with the agreement of the Mauritius Council of Ministers,
the islands of the Chagos Archipelago were detached from Mauritius
to form part of the British Indian Ocean Territory. The territory
was created to provide for the defence needs of both Britain and
the United States of America. Subsequently, the plantations on
which the population of the islands had depended for their livelihood
were run down and closed; and the inhabitantsthe Chagossianswere
in due course relocated to Mauritius and Seychelles, from where
they or their families originated. The vast majority of them automatically
acquired Mauritian or Seychelles citizenship when those countries
respectively achieved independence. In addition, the British Overseas
Territories Act 2002 gave a large number of them British citizenship.
This carries with it the right of abode in this country, which
some of them have already taken up, and freedom of access to other
EU countries. Following the relocation, Britain made £650,000
available for the express purpose of assisting resettlement. And
in 1982 Britain made a further ex gratia payment of £4 million
for the benefit of the Chagossian community in Mauritius.
In November 2000 the High Court in the UK held
in judicial review proceedings that a provision of the territory's
immigration law that had previously precluded the Chagossians
from returning to the territory without a permit was invalid.
In the circumstances which then obtained, it was decided not to
appeal against that ruling, and the immigration law was amended
to reflect it.
Following the departure of the Chagossians in
the late 60s and early 70s, the economic conditions and infrastructure
that had supported the community of plantation workers ceased
to exist. While the judicial review proceedings were still pending,
the Government therefore commissioned a feasibility study by independent
experts to examine and report on the prospects for re-establishing
a viable community in the outer islands of the territory. The
latest report of the study was delivered after the November 2000
judgment and it was then placed in the Library of the House. It
". . . whilst it may be feasible to resettle
the islands in the short-term, the costs of maintaining long-term
inhabitation are likely to be prohibitive. Even in the short-term,
natural events such as periodic flooding from storms and seismic
activity are likely to make life difficult for a resettled population
. . . Human interference within the atolls, however well managed,
is likely to exacerbate stress on the marine and terrestrial environment
and will accelerate the effects of global warming. Thus resettlement
is likely to become less feasible over time."
Specifically with reference to climate change,
the report advised that:
". . . the main issue facing a resettled
population on the low-lying islands will be flooding events, which
are likely to increase in periodicity and intensity and will not
only threaten infrastructure, but also the freshwater aquifers
and agricultural production. Severe events may even threaten life."
The report also highlighted the implications
for resettlement on such low-lying islands of the predicted increase
in global sea levels as a result of climate change.
In effect, therefore, anything other than short-term
resettlement on a purely subsistence basis would be highly precarious
and would involve expensive underwriting by the UK Government
for an open-ended periodprobably permanently. Accordingly,
the Government consider that there would be no purpose in commissioning
any further study into the feasibility of resettlement; and that
it would be impossible for the Government to promote or even permit
resettlement to take place. After long and careful consideration,
we have therefore decided to legislate to prevent it.
Equally, restoration of full immigration control
over the entire territory is necessary to ensure and maintain
the availability and effective use of the territory for defence
purposes, for which it was in fact constituted and set aside in
accordance with the UK's treaty obligations entered into almost
40 years ago. Especially in the light of recent developments in
the international security climate since the November 2000 judgment,
this is a factor to which due weight has had to be given.
It was for these reasons that on 10 June 2004
Her Majesty made two Orders in Council, the combined effect of
which is to restore full immigration control over all the islands
of the British Indian Ocean Territory. These controls extend to
all persons, including members of the Chagossian community.
The first of these two orders replaces the existing
constitution of the territory and makes clear, as a principle
of the constitution, that no person has the right of abode in
the territory or has unrestricted access to any part of it. The
second order replaces the existing immigration ordinance of the
territory and contains the detailed provisions giving effect to
that principle and setting out the necessary immigration controls.
These two orders restore the legal position to what it had been
understood to be before the High Court decision of 3 November
2000. I am arranging for copies of the orders to be placed in
the Library of the House.