Chagos marine reserve decision 'ignored exiled islanders'

by David Hughes and Ben Padley

The Independent

The decision to create the world's largest marine reserve around the British-owned Chagos Islands failed to take account of the needs of the territory's exiled inhabitants, it was claimed today.

Labour's Jeremy Corbyn, chairman of the all-party parliamentary Chagos Islands group, said the inhabitants who were "driven out" by the creation of a US military base wanted to return and carry out "sustainable" fishing in the Indian Ocean.

The Marine Protected Area (MPA) will cover some quarter-of-a-million square miles of sea around the archipelago in the Indian Ocean and include a "no-take" reserve banning commercial fishing.

Asking an urgent question in the Commons, Mr Corbyn (Islington North) said Government had given an assurance that there would be consultation before the announcement was made.

He said "no such consultation has taken place" and added: "A terrible wrong was committed against the Chagos Islanders in the 1970s and 1980s when they were driven out to make way for a US base.

"Every other marine protection area that is proposed, anywhere in the world by anybody, always includes a local human element to protect that zone."

The Chagos islanders "support the MPA - not, however, the no-take policy but with one of sustainable fishing to enable a sustainable community to return to their islands and live there", he added.

Foreign Office minister Chris Bryant apologised for the lack of consultation before last week's announcement.

But he insisted a no-take policy was the only way to protect the natural biodiversity in the waters around the British Indian Ocean Territory.

The Chagos have been the subject of a long-running controversy as the islanders exiled to make way for the Diego Garcia US airbase have fought for the right to return home.

Mr Corbyn said: "Later this year there is to be a hearing at the European Court of Human Rights in which the long fight of the islanders for justice and human rights to enable them to return to the islands is going to be heard in Strasbourg.

"Many of us believe they are going to be victorious. At that point, will you accept that the islanders' return can be also protective of that environment that they were so cruelly snatched away from all those years ago?"

Mr Bryant said the decision was "entirely without prejudice" to the European Court case.

He apologised for the lack of consultation before the final announcement was made but said "we got to the position where ... it was clear to us there was no further information that could now come in that would make any difference to the decision".

Defending the "no-take" policy, he said: "The truth is very few sustainable fishing arrangements around the world have ever been successful at actually being sustainable.

"That is why we believe it is vital that this is a no-take arrangement within the area."

There had been extensive consultation about the proposals to create the MPA, Mr Bryant said.

Shadow foreign office minister Keith Simpson said the interests of the Chagossians "must be placed at the heart of any decisions taken about their homeland" but supported the creation of the MPA.

He asked what the cost would be and what measures would be put in place to ensure "effective enforcement of the ban" on fishing.

"How will it ensure that the MPA is not simply a paper proposal without practical impact?"

Mr Bryant said three licences for fishing in the waters were currently issued and the loss of revenue from those would be some £1 million a year.

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