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Girls at risk as Ascension declines, says Guardian writer

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Ascension is losing families because of employment policies, says Guardian writer Fred Pearce
Ascension is losing families because of employment policies, says Guardian writer Fred Pearce

Long-held resentments over treatment of Saints on Ascension have been aired in a lengthy article on the UK’s Guardian website.

It accuses the UK of depopulating the island – with teenagers facing sexual pressures as a result.

Writer Fred Pearce says people who have lived on the island all their lives are being forced out because they have no right to stay without work – and the number of jobs is being systematically reduced.

“Jobs are being shed and workers moved on to short-term contracts,” he writes. “Families now only accompany workers if that is essential to fill positions, say officials.

“The loss of families means that three-quarters of the population is now male. Sexual exploitation of the remaining teenage girls is becoming a serious problem.”

The school is losing pupils and in danger of becoming unviable, says the article – quoting prominent resident Caz Yon, who was recently awarded the MBE for services to the island.

The discontent dates back to 2006, when UK foreign secretary Jack Straw went back on promises to give resident workers the right to live on the island without a job, and rights to own property.

“Businesses set up during the ‘Ascension spring’ have lost their value because they cannot be sold and have no secure land tenure.”

Administrator Colin Wells defends the UK’s “necessary U-turn” in the article.

He also denies that the island is seeing “a slow motion repeat” of the ongoing scandal of Diego Garcia, another British territory whose people were expelled to make way for a US air base – and are still fighting to return.

Pearce quotes Lawson Henry, now an executive councillor on St Helena, where retired Ascension workers are denied local pensions because they have not worked on their native island for the required 20 years.

Little has changed since Jack Straw’s U-turn, but now the island is seeing the effects of Britain’s decision to avoid having to pay pensions or unemployment benefit.

But maybe noises are about to be made again, says the article, which is headlined, US and UK accused of ‘squeezing life out of’ Ascension Island.

“The issue is expected to come to a head in elections later this year for the island council – a purely advisory body that is the island’s only semblance of democracy after 198 years of British rule.”

Democracy: another promise that didn’t quite come off.

Read the full article here


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