It’s almost a decade since I started helping the Chagossians in their quest for justice. It is a cause I plough many hours into with very little in the way of reward in terms of progress. It’s a cause that touches upon the sensitivities of issues like national security so is therefore under-reported in the domestic media, and we find ourselves forever fighting against the tide.
We keep going because it’s the right thing to do and we all care passionately enough to dedicate so much of our time to securing a fair resolution. I once started a petition which was exclusive to UK citizens and achieved just over a thousand signatures in a year. A White House petition which was open to citizens all over the world racked up 25,000 pledges of support in a year.
Last week a very unusual campaign managed to rack up that many signatures in a single day. I regard it to be a very misguided crusade, which is strange when usually I’d be someone who would naturally be drawn to support such a movement. I am the complete polar opposite of someone who is traditionally right-wing and by nature anti-immigration.
I absolutely love immigration.
I’ve always been very bitter about the restrictions which are placed on the movement of migrants wishing to settle in the UK who have originated from a country that was once a colonial outpost. My view is that the UK should indeed be operating an “open door” policy when it comes to migrants from countries whose ancestors contributed so much to the prosperity of this country.
It’s not a popular view, but I have always maintained that the UK owes an enormous debt to parts of the world which were once part of the British Empire. And when right-wingers revert to type with arguments like “we’re full”, I just bat them away on the basis that Britain raided these countries dry of their natural resources. I think it is terribly unfair to deny a right of residency to descendants of people born into the British Empire. They should have the right to share in the success which was built on the blood, sweat and tears of their ancestors.
So when I become aware of anyone from the Commonwealth struggling to attain residency in the UK, my instant reaction is to support their efforts. If I hear of Mauritians wanting to stay in the UK, that desire to support their efforts is magnified even more because I immediately think of my late Grandparents who made the journey to the UK with my dad, aunts and uncles in tow almost half a century ago.
Unfortunately if you insinuate that Mauritius is effectively a glorified banana republic with no concept of law and order, well then I’m afraid you will quickly alienate any goodwill from someone like me. Because it is just not true: Mauritius is not in a state of war or under martial law. It is a normal, stable and modern democracy. Mauritius, like Britain, does have a legal system, a judicial process, a respect for the rule of law and a police force which serves to uphold these principles.
Yashika Bageerathi has been ordered to leave the UK after her application for asylum was rejected. The application was based on an incident of sexual assault which is understood to have taken place in Mauritius around five years ago. The family have stated that they are frightened to return to the island as relatives of the assailants will be waiting at the airport upon their return. Yashika, now nineteen years of age, is in the final stages of her A Levels at a school in north London.
It is quite a story, but there are critical questions which need to be answered.
Why did the Bageerathi family travel over six thousand miles? Reunion Island is around an hour away and is part of the French Republic and therefore part of the EU. Their claim could have been assessed there. Or if they were seeking more space between themselves and the perpetrators, it would have been possible to stay within the Mauritian Republic and reside on Rodrigues Island which is four hours away.
Furthermore Yashika’s mother arrived in the UK in 2009 but her children did not arrive until 2011. If Mauritius was such a dangerous environment for the family to reside in, then why on earth would any rational thinking mother leave her children at such risk for two years? Surely even two weeks would be too long.
This case is an insult to every individual who genuinely flees persecution, wars or humanitarian disasters in their homeland. I don’t recall hearing about snipers on the rooftops of Pointe Aux Sables or tanks proceeding down the streets of Rose Hill. Yashika is a Hindu-Mauritian which by definition means she cannot be a persecuted minority on the island as she is actually part of a majority who make up two-thirds of the population.
This is textbook propaganda for every anti-immigration right-leaning voter in the UK and a trophy for little Englanders: the fabled bogus asylum seeker. It’s such an obvious case of an application that should never have been submitted in the first place.
This episode has the potential to be hugely damaging for Mauritius and will possibly tarnish its global reputation. Mud has a tendency to stick so Mauritius will be depicted as an island where atrocities against women are rife. This is unfair when the statistics simply do not support this claim at all. Alarmingly the reverse is closer to the truth.
In 2012 there were 418 reported (p.47) acts of sexual offences in the Republic of Mauritius. In the same year, England & Wales recorded 53,700 cases of the same categories of crime. Given that Mauritius has a population of around 1.3 million compared to England & Wales which has around 56.6 million residents, the numbers can be adjusted to provide an accurate comparison.
Mauritius is broadly 44 times smaller than England & Wales in terms of population size. Applying this rule, Mauritius would have recorded 18,392 incidents of sexual offences if it had a population in proportion to England & Wales. Thus the number of sexual offences recorded in England & Wales is 291% higher than Mauritius per 1000 people according to the year of comparable data from 2012.
Of course such comparisons must be treated with caution and are only used as an indicator as opposed to reflecting the entire picture. Sexual attacks against women are still amongst the most under-reported of indictable offences. That is aside from the disgracefully low conviction rates. However that is a global issue which shames us all from Mahebourg to Middlesbrough. It is certainly not a problem exclusive to Mauritius.
I think it’s incredibly sad that a teenager is being detained behind barbed-wire fencing at a high-security immigration detention facility in Bedfordshire. I also think it is tragic that a young lady can’t continue her studies and finish her education. Yet I don’t want to pledge my support to such a campaign which has spread lies and inaccurate myths about Mauritius.
The Mauritian Government, having liaised with the local authorities, have no record of any crime being reported on the island. This is why the Mauritian High Commissioner to Britain attempted to meet with Yashika during her detention at Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire in order to discuss her concerns of being returned to a country that was her home until three years ago.
When supporters of the Chagosssian cause strive to raise awareness, we do so by sticking to the facts and the truth. We don’t spread any lies; we don’t feel we need to. Anyone familiar with the tragedy will know that the horrors speak for themselves. I suppose in doing so, we ensure that we maintain the moral high-ground. I resent the “Save Yashika” campaign because it is littered with inaccuracies bordering on fiction.
The Chagossian quest for justice may not be as trendy as the latest fashionable cause, but it is a force for good and upholds the facts. “Save Yashika” is just an ill-advised crusade which became a force of nature with a destructive and reckless power. It resembles a cyclone flattening everything in its path, especially the inconvenient truth.