Conor Foley’s Thin Blue Line detailed how the causes of humanitarian groups can be hijacked by states. I think there’s material for a companion book: how the aims of green organisations can be exploited. Last year David Miliband announced that he’d enshrined the Chagos Islands as a marine reserve and, thus, protected it from the blight of commercial fishing. NGOs like the Pew Environment Group, Avaaz and Greenpeace lauded the decision; seeing it as a splendid victory in their conservation efforts. In some ways it was a blessing. Overfishing stinks worse than a rotten haddock.

But things were a few shades darker than they might have seemed. Diplomatic papers Wikileaks had gleaned for us revealed officials celebrating that the islands’ designation “put paid to resettlement claims of [their] former residents“. Far from being motivated by a love of nature, say, they’d intended to obstruct the islanders’ return. (Just to rub it in, they’d also named them “Man Fridays”. I suspect the Ιlios are far too mild for vengeance but if they’d like to be stranded on a desert island with these witless schmucks you’d be heartless to deny them.)

Friendly posho-cum-iron man Ben Fogle was irate. In a column for the Telegraph he wrote

When I was originally asked to support the creation of the sanctuary, I was assured that the protectorate would include a clause that would allow the Chagossians to return home. Yet it now appears that, once again, the government has used environmental blackmail to get its own way. I was duped into supporting a scheme in violation of basic human rights, and I have since spoken to a number of scientists who agree that they too were misled.

The Foreign Office wanted to exploit the lobbyists. Questioned as to whether the Chagossians would thwart their plans they answered that, “The environmental lobby is…more powerful than the advocates [of the Islanders].” The Greens should distance themselves from this callous cynicism. They’ve admitted that the reason the Ilios are still excluded “is due to the setting aside of [the islands] for defence purposes“…

This is a completely separate issue from the establishment of a marine reserve; one has absolutely no bearing on the other.

While they celebrate their progress in conservation, though, they’ve made no effort to endorse, explore or even touch upon the Islanders’ return. And if Fogle is correct they’d be well-placed to do this: demonstrating, say, the possibility of a resettlement…

Opponents say that the islands lack the resources for a return, but, when I was there, I found clean, fresh water boreholes; many of the houses could be repaired. With subsistence fishing, they could rebuild their community with minimal impact.

I can empathise with the desire to be neutral. Yet if the state has hitched a ride atop your bandwag0n you can’t pretend you’re not complicit. Time, I think, for them to clear the Indian Ocean air.

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