Monday, 18 May 2015

Chagos islander's 'bitter sweet' return

As reproduced from the Big Issue in the North magazine. 

A prominent member of the Manchester Chagos Archipelago community group has described her first visit to the Chagos Islands as a “bitter- sweet experience”. 

Claudia Naraina’s father and grandparents were born on the Chagos Archipelago. This contains the world’s largest coral atoll, comprises over 60 Indian Ocean tropical islands and, despite Mauritius’s sovereignty claims, is part of the British Indian Ocean Territory. 
Britain expelled all 1,500 Chagos islanders in six years, beginning in 1965. 
This allowed the US to locate 4,000 troops at Diego Garcia, since made infamous by accusations that it operates as a secret US detention centre for terrorism suspects. 
Five years ago the Labour government established the world’s largest marine reserve around the Chagos Islands – a move, as later revealed by Wikileaks cables – that
was aimed at ending former residents and their descendants’ continuing resettlement claims. 
Many Chagossians who were relocated to Mauritius have raised their families there. Britain is also home to two significant communities of Chagossians. 
One is around Crawley in Sussex. Around 200 Chagossians based in Manchester formed their own community group in 2013. 
Last year the British government commissioned a feasibility study, which examined whether a new settlement in the Chagos Islands could be self-sustaining and what the likely costs would be of building houses, schools and secure infrastructure. 
Naraina described the study as a “genuine initiative in response to Chagossians’ constant fight for the right to return home”. In April, she travelled with the London Zoological Society on a conservation trip to the Chagos Islands – her first visit there. 
“It was a great thrill, especially as it gave me the opportunity to see where my father and grandparents were brought up,” she said. 
“It was such a beautiful place and many locations remain in pristine condition. 
“Visiting means I can also report to other Chagossians what I have witnessed and what it will take for people to return.” 
But Naraina was struck by how “remote” the islands are and now understands the stories she was told as a child about how difficult living conditions were in the past. 
She said: “If people are going to return it is going to take quite some time to organise and it will cost quite a lot of money as there is nothing there that could currently support a community of any size.” 
She acknowledged that this view might not be welcomed by some in her community, particularly those who once lived on the islands. 
She said some Chagossians who are seeking a permanent return should be allowed to find work at Diego Garcia and that more holiday visits should also be permitted. 
She called for the feasibility study, carried out by business services firm KPMG, to be extended to further assess the logistics and costs of returning larger numbers of Chagossians in the future. 

She would like to re-visit the Chagos Islands but admitted that her first trip been a “bitter- sweet experience as it revealed that re-establishing a permanent settlement is going to be difficult”. 

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