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.
Caroline “Caz” Yon has been awarded an MBE in the 2013 New Year Honours list, for services to the community on Ascension Island.
Caz was recently described by a visiting writer as an “extraordinary woman – five careers on the island: Veterinarian, Driver, Lawyer, Longshoreman, and yes, Rocket Scientist, monitoring the rocket launches of ARIANE and NASA.”
She served as a magistrate for 13 years, and then became a lay advocate, representing islanders in courts and tribunals.
As a councillor and campaigner, she was willing to speak out on islanders’ behalf – once having a letter published in The Guardian complaining about human rights on the island.
In August and September 2012, she used her knowledge as a diver to support a scientific survey of Ascension’s marine life. The expedition website includes a profile of her. It says:
“Caz Yon has been living and working on Ascension Island for the last 20 years and currently manages the ESA Telemetry Tracking Station at North East Bay. For her day job, Caz is a communications engineer but as with a lot of people on a small island wears many hats on a voluntary basis.
“She gave up being a Justice of the Peace after 13 years of service and is now a legal advisor, assisting people with various criminal and civil issues.
“Caz also runs the Ascension Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, offering front line and emergency veterinary services as well as overseeing the import/export of pet animals.
“Caz is also a first aid and dive instructor and offers courses in both on the island.”
The site said she hoped the research project would increase local awareness of the island’s waters, and increase commitment to conservation.
She was also involved in the recent operation to clear the island of feral cats, in order to encourage sea birds to repopulate the island. Her role was to neuter and microchip the domestic cats on the island.
In 2000, Caz had become a founder member of Ascension’s first-ever elected council, and soon found herself challenging St Helena’s governor on the extent to which the island should be controlled from The Castle in Jamestown.
She has twice represented the island at overseas conferences.
She and fellow councillors resigned their seats en masse when the UK government backed down on its plans to give people the right to own property and remain on the island when job contracts ended.
Ascension islanders had – and have – no right of abode on the island. As Caz wrote in a letter to The Guardian newspaper in 2005, this meant the children of contract workers could be forced to leave the only home they had known if they were unable to find a job on leaving Two Boats School.
She wrote: “As a result of the promises of the UK government, some members of the community have poured their life savings into starting small businesses only to find out that they now face losing everything and being deported.
“As the majority of the population are British and proud of it, it has come as a severe shock to learn that the British government has such little regard for people’s rights.”
She was also ready to share her views when the island featured in the Correspondent’s Diary in the Economist magazine.
“She is particularly critical of the cuts at the school,” it wrote, “and thinks that when her children need a secondary education she and her partner may well decide to head to the UK.
“The shift from a vision of future growth and empowerment to one of near term contraction has had its impact on the spirit of volunteerism that Ms Yon illustrates, she thinks.
“But it is still there—not so much a can-do spirit as a well-no-one-else-will spirit, a fact of life in a technically competent workforce at the end of a long supply chain.”
The article said Caz remained optimistic about the island’s future potential. It also referred to the custom observed by those who are about to leave the island and hope never to return: they secretly splash paint on a rock known as the lizard.
The writer says: “Something outside may change in a way that redefines the island’s purpose yet again, and brings in new enthusiasms and possibilities. Even disillusioned, Caz Yon can hope for such a possibility. She may leave, she says. But she will never paint the lizard.”
Mrs Phyllis Mary Rendell, formerly director of mineral resources on the Falkland
Islands, has been awarded an MBE in the 2013 honours list, for services to Falkland Islands interests.