Tuesday, 12 March 2013

A tale of two islands?

The results of the referendum in the Falkland Islands are in and it is no surprise that the vote is overwhelmingly in favour of retaining ties with the UK. Cameron and Hague are doing the media round and telling the Argentinans to back off: the Islanders have spoken. As Posh Dave has put it "I think the most important thing about this result is that we believe in self-determination, and the Falkland Islanders have spoken so clearly about their future, and now other countries right across the world, I hope, will respect and revere this very, very clear result."  Great rhetoric and a great statement of principle. Or is it?

Can we now expect the government to follow the same principle on the rights of the Chagos people in relation to their Diego Garcia home? They are British citizens, roughly the same number as inhabit the Falkland Islands, and had lived in Diego Garcia since the 18th century. Their expulsion followed the purchase of their islands in 1965 by the UK in order to provide the US with a military airbase. Despite every legal effort on their behalf they have been prevented ever since from returning home. A referendum among them would certainly produce a similar result as that among the Falkland Islanders will no doubt shortly demonstrate.

Why should the Chagos Islanders be treated differently? One could infer that the imposed absence from their home, in stark contrast to undertaking a huge military effort in the South Atlantic to maintain the Falkland Islanders in theirs, has its roots in their different origins. Would we be treating the Chagosians in this way if they were ex-patriot Brits?  Is there not a whiff of racism at play here?

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