A legal battle will begin today (Thursday 11 August) in the High Court on behalf of a former resident forcibly exiled from the Chagos Islands to the Seychelles by the British Government.
Solange Hoareau was born on the Chagos Islands in the 1950s, on Diego Garcia. He is seeking to challenge, through judicial review, the consultation launched by the British Government about the British Indian Ocean Territory (‘BIOT’) in August 2015 to understand the demand for resettlement on the Chagos islands and the “alternatives to resettlement”.
Law firm Leigh Day launched formal legal proceedings in May with tomorrow’s permission hearing the first time the case has reached the High Court. The consultation being challenged requested views on a range of options for resettlement.
It also requested views on "the full range of options" for alternatives to resettlement. These alternatives the government stated should aim to "meet Chagossian aspirations… [and] provide support for Chagossians to flourish in their current communities, and build their lives there.”
During this consultation exercise, the Chairman of the Chagossian Committee Seychelles, a committee established to represent the interests of those Chagossians exiled to the Seychelles, wrote to the UK government to ask them to confirm that financial payments to those forcibly removed from their homes would be one of the “alternatives” considered as part of the review.
In response, the UK government wrote back to the Committee stating that no, “no further compensation is being considered” and later confirmed that no form of direct financial support would be contemplated.
The legal action challenges this decision, claiming that the unpublished policy decision not to consider financial support to Chaggosians amounted to an unpublished, secret policy which undermined the apparent breadth of the Consultation.
It also challenges the government's failure to have regard to its duties under the Equality Act 2010. The policy under contemplation proposes to resettle only those who are fit and well. The elderly and disabled will remain in poverty in their current communities and will receive no financial support to sustain them.
The UK government was responsible for the forced eviction of all inhabitants of the Chagos Islands between 1968 and 1971.
Some of those inhabitants were relocated to Mauritius; others to the Seychelles. Both the Mauritian and Seychelles Chagossians have consistently expressed a desire to return home and resettle the Chagos islands.
Although the UK government has stated repeatedly that the exile of the Chagossians was wrong, the current Minister of State responsible for BIOT accepts that the story of the Chagossians “is…appalling” for which successive governments have expressed regret, the UK government has only ever paid compensation to the Mauritian Chagossians. No financial payments never ever been to the Seychelles Chagossians.
In December 2012, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague announced a BIOT policy review, the purpose of which was to reconsider the possibility of resettling those exiled form the islands and, in the event that resettlement was not possible, considering what alternative measures could be adopted to support the exiled communities and individuals.
On 10 February 2015, an independent feasibility study on resettlement concluded that resettlement of the islands, within certain conditions, was feasible but that there was not a clear indication of likely demand and the costs and liabilities of the UK taxpayer were uncertain and potentially significant.
Ministers agreed further work was therefore necessary and on 4 August 2015, the government commenced the consultation exercise.
The Chairman of the Chagossian Committee Seychelles, Pierre Prosper said: “The Chagossian individuals and families forcibly removed from their homes by the UK government to the Seychelles arrived in the country without any family, any support, and suffered a similar fate to those that were deported to Mauritius.
“They were left to fend for themselves, marginalized from society and dumped on the docks with nowhere to stay.
"Their hurt of displacement remains as does their financial suffering. Urgent action is required from the UK government to assist our community so the effects of their immoral actions can finally be remedied. If the UK government is going to continue to refuse us to all proper resettlement of our homeland, financial payments must be considered as an alternative."
Rosa Curling from the law firm Leigh Day who is representing Mr Hoareau, said: “We have advised our client that the refusal by the UK government to consider financial payments as an option in their BIOT review is unlawful. The UK government has rightfully recognised that the actions taken by their predecessor government was “appalling”.
“To forcibly remove resettlement of the Chagos Archipelago, direct financial payments must be an option for them to consider as an alternative. An open and transparent process of decision making must take place."
The legal action follows lengthy correspondence between the Committee and the Government requesting support for the Chagossian communities in need and to provide financial payments to those affected.