St Helena : Ascension Calls for Residency Rights
Submitted by Saint Helena Herald (Juanita Brock) 16.07.2006 (Article Archived on 30.07.2006)
In this BBC Transcript Several Islanders - Councillors and a former Administrator set the record straight about right of abode on Ascension Island. Thanks to St. Helena Herald.
Transcript of a BBC
Five-Live radio broadcast. It went out in
UK on Monday 10th July)
[BBC Studio Presenter]: People who live and work on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic are calling on the Foreign Office to give them full residency rights, as well as the right to own property, in line with other British owned dependencies. Our correspondent Paul Greer is there on Ascension Island. So people there, Paul, say they were promised the right to buy property, and have residency
by the British Government and were then told, “No deal, it’s off!”
[Paul Greer]: Yes, that’s what they say happened. Way back in 2001 moves were started to allow people here to buy businesses, homes and property, to bring this British territory in line with other Islands, like St Helena or the Falklands. Now you can be a British Citizen, born here on Ascension, educated here, you can marry here, have your own family, but if you lose your job, you will be deported. Now that was set to end: - a council was elected here and taxes were raised. But then suddenly, a few months’ ago, the Foreign Office stunned people here with the announcement, “the deal is off!” This is council member Lawson Henry, and he is an angry man.
[Lawson Henry]: I think for me, who has been a law abiding citizen for all my 53 years of life, who has spent half of my working life as a police officer, and who has always followed and admired the British Justice system, I find it very difficult, in the 21st century, that the British Government could stoop so low in infringing people’s rights in this way. It’s an utter disgrace and I can’t put it any more stronger [sic] for the Government to act and to treat British Citizens in the way that they have treated people living on Ascension Island.
[BBC Studio Presenter]: And a lot of people on the Island are blaming the Americans. Why is that?
[Paul Greer]: Well many people suspect the Americans made it clear to the British Government that they didn’t like the idea of a resident population living so close to a US airbase, and that the FO took that on board, in exactly the same way that they did in the 1970s over Diego Garcia. This is Carline Yon. She’s been on Ascension for 16 years.
[Caroline Yon]: The Americans have been watching with increasing concern the steps that the Council have been taking to open up the Island to more and more people, to increase the number of residents here on the Island, for people to have rights here outside of a contract, and to bring in tourists. And certainly, from the very beginning the US base Commander has always been present at all meetings to do with this. So there is no way that this has been going on without their knowledge. They are worried about the effects of having people on the Island who may not have a job, who may have an axe to grind with the authorities, who can’t be deported because they haven’t got a contract.
[BBC Studio Presenter]: Could the Islanders be self-sufficient in all of this? Or would it cost taxpayers to support them?
[Paul Greer]: Well the population here is about 1,000 people, which is about the size of an average secondary school! The Island itself raises about five to six million pounds a year in taxes, but they would need some help from the UK. This is Geoffrey Fairhurst; he was the Foreign office official here in 2002. He doesn’t believe this about money. He thinks people on Ascension have been caught up in a much bigger game.
[Geoffrey Fairhurst]: I think they’ve been treated very badly. When I think what happened to the Chagossians all those years ago, and the Government are trying to do something similar. I don’t see what has changed since 2001 that is so drastic that this country can’t afford to continue to support a small overseas territory of 1,000 people. I do think that it’s a lack of political will, rather than a lack of money.
[Paul Greer]: The FO says that the contingent liabilities – that’s the cost of pensions, healthcare, unemployment – that would pose too big a risk to the British taxpayer. But they say they are supporting Ascension Island.