Henry Smith, UK Member of Parliament for Crawley and Vice-Chairman of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group, has always supported the Chagossian people’s plea to be sent back to the archipelago. He was recently disappointed by the British Supreme Court’s verdict, which dismissed the Chagos Refugees Group’s appeal. Henry Smith, who considers that Chagossian people have successfully integrated into Crawley community, answered our questions.
You have always campaigned for the Chagossian people’s right to return to the Chagos. What motivates you to join them in their quest?
I first read about the plight of the Chagos Islanders being forcibly removed from their homeland as a student and was appalled this could be allowed to happen as recently as the late 1960s. Later in life, I feel privileged to represent the community in Parliament and seek justice.
The first group of Chagossians had negative experiences on their arrival. They staged a sit-in at Gatwick Airport until West Sussex County Council decided to offer them support. Is it fair to say that local authorities were not prepared for this and didn’t want to take responsibility?
Over a decade ago when Chagos islanders started to arrive from Port-Louis to Gatwick, the local authorities were at first caught off guard and it was a difficult time. I am pleased now, however, that they are fully integrated. I believe that Crawley is a better place for the large number of Chagossians living there and I am proud that both the borough and islanders now have a shared history.
You said publicly last month that you were disappointed with the ruling of the Supreme Court against the right of return. Do you sincerely believe that Chagossians will ever be allowed back home? Many Chagossians argue that successive British governments have been taking them for a ride and are not genuinely willing to help in the resettlement.
The recent United Kingdom (UK) Supreme Court ruling, upholding an earlier House of Lords decision not to allow a legal right of return was extremely disappointing. However, the Government can still make a determination to make it possible for return as the independent feasibility study they commissioned and reported last year concluded it was doable. In the past, I think the Foreign & Commonwealth Office deliberately misled the Chagos Islanders. However, I have noticed in the last few years what I believe is a genuine desire to try and right a wrong.
While hoping for a right to return, many are also fighting for better treatment here in the UK. The immigration rules that divide so many Chagossian families are one of the main concerns. People failing the Life in the UK tests due to lack of English cannot reunite with their family in the UK. Don’t you think your government should ease those pressures off the Chagossian community, considering the wrongs done to the islanders?
In my view, Chagossians and their families hold a special place as exiled British citizens and I think the UK immigration should better reflect that.
Maurice a remporté une première bataille avec le vote de la résolution sur les Chagos à l’Assemblée des Nations unies le jeudi 22 juin. Une résolution adoptée avec 94 voix en faveur de la résolution, 15 voix contre et 65 abstentions. Prochaine étape : la Cour internationale de justice…