Bill Rammell visit in Mauritius January 14, 2005 Bill Rammell, accompanied by over a dozen police officers, arrived at the Baie du Tombeau Ilois community centre a little before 7:30 am last Friday. Members of Chagos Refugees Group, their supporters, and the local and international press were there to greet him. He entered the center and instructed the Mauritian police to keep all press outside. Baton-wielding policemen blocked the community center’s doors so that no cameras or journalists could enter. Many people crowded around the small, barred windows in order to witness part of the 20-minute meeting. Mr. Rammell began the meeting by announcing that, although he was in favor of the visit to Chagos this April, unfortunately the Mauritian government had prohibited the British from contracting the boat. The announcement was delivered in the most unprofessional, undiplomatic, and condescending manner possible. There was an incredible stir in the room--the British were once again playing games with the hopes and lives of Chagossians. No one present could have predicted Olivier's smooth, diplomatic, and direct response. "You say, Mr Rammell that you support our visit, its financing, our right to go back to Chagos, but the only problem is the boat? Well, Mr Rammell, we have a boat." Olivier handed Rammell a dossier of the ship's information, informing those present that the boat is based in Dubai, and is prepared to take Chagossians to Chagos. No one, including Olivier’s closest friends and advisors, had been told about the ship in Dubai, and Rammell looked especially shocked. Mr Rammell said he would have to review Olivier's new information before commenting further. During the rest of the meeting, Mr Rammell avoided eye contact with members of CRG. He took about a half- dozen questions, but provided no real answers and no new information. One member of CRG asked; in slow but completely understandable English, if Chagos had been affected by the recent tsunami. Though perfectly comprehensible, Mr Rammell made a face at the man and had him repeat the question. After not "understanding" the man a second time, the shouts of "Did the tsunami affect Diego?" proved that Rammell was the only English-speaker in the room who couldn't comprehend. When he finally decided to answer, "Not according to my information," was all he could manage to tell someone wondering if his ancestor’s graves had been damaged? Mr Rammell is responsible for these islands and he should know precisely what condition they're in. His lac k of desire and inability to effectively communicate with Chagossians were common themes during the morning. And the man asked again “so if Diego has not been damaged by the Tsunami so Chagossians can leave there…?” Mr. Rammell left the center to visit nearby Chagossian homes, and was followed by over a dozen journalists and Chagossians who chanted and waved signs of protest. There was a unique tension in the air. During the visit to the two Chagossian homes, members of the press were again forced to stay outside. After seeing these homes, Mr Rammell announced that Chagossians live no differently than some Mauritians, and it is clear to him that their poverty and their life in these communities has "absolutely nothing" to do with the fact that they are Chagossian. His whole visit was rushed, and constant checks of his watch reinforced his lack of discretion. It was almost as if he wanted everyone to know that Chagossians and this meeting were great inconveniences for him. In the afternoon, Don McKinnon was to schedule to arrive at the CRG office at 4:00 pm. He finally arrived at nearly 5:30, and met with Olivier, members of the CRG, and the press inside the office. After Olivier welcomed him and presented him and his two colleagues with information, including the recent John Pilger film, Stealing a Nation, he spoke about the institution of the Commonwealth, and how he was unhappy to see that two of its members--Britain and Mauritius--were not pleased with one another. He said that it made him sad to see a group in a country not feel part of that group. He hoped steps could be taken to better integrate Chagossians in Mauritian society and the Commonwealth. His speech was certainly tailored to the sovereignty issue of the Chagos Archipelago, not the Chagossians with whom he was meeting. After addressing the group inside the CRG office, he went outside and delivered an abbreviated version of the speech to about 100 Chagossians waiting outside. Mr McKinnon did say, however, that he was in Cassis to learn. He accompanied Olivier to visit two Chagossian homes. Although the day was hot and he had a car, he took of his jacket and walked with CRG members and the press to the houses. This gesture was certainly appreciated by Olivier and members of the CRG. While inside Chagossians' homes, Mr McKinnon attempted to converse with the family. Although his visit was also short, Mr McKinnon was diplomatic, polite, and took some time to listen to Chagossians. In Cassis, Mr McKinnon was accompanied by other members of the Commonwealth Secretariat, including the Undersecretary of African Affairs, Professor A. Adefuye. During the walks of about one kilometers to the two homes, Prof. Adefuye made an effort to engage Chagossians in discussion. He spoke with CRG members about the conditions of their exile: how they got to Mauritius, and how they felt here. Prof. Adefuye told those present that he was embarrassed that, even though he is in charge of the African region for the Secretariat, he had understood this as a sovereignty issue, not a human rights one. He was anxious to learn more, and seemed deeply touched by his visit and this new information. That he had no idea about the true plight of the Chagossians reinforces the fact that there is still much work to be done to raise awareness, and bring more sympathisers like him to the Chagossians' cause. Seeing his fascination, astonishment, and eagerness to find out more was encouraging.