Pressure mounts on Britain to grant citizenship to descendants of deported Chagos Islanders

Pressure is growing on the British government to reverse a “historic injustice” and grant citizenship to the descendants of a group forcibly deported from their home islands to make way for a US military base in the 1970s.

The UK deported around 2,000 people from the Chagos Islands for the construction of the Diego Garcia base between 1967 and 1973. In return, the Chagossians were granted citizenship; but a loophole means many of their children and grandchildren were not.

This has left hundreds of second and third generation Chagossians in limbo, living undocumented in the UK or in Mauritius and the Seychelles, separated from their close family.

Now, a bill aiming to right this wrong is progressing through parliament. Henry Smith, MP for Crawley, home to the largest Chagossian community in the UK, has tabled an amendment that proposes that citizenship be offered to all Chagossian descendants. 

“The grandchildren of people who were British subjects, in the British Indian Ocean Territory, now find themselves with, in effect, no rights to British citizenship, despite the fact that it was no fault of their own that their grandparents and relatives were forcibly exiled from their home territory,” said Mr Smith.

“This injustice has existed for more than half a century…  I hope that the Government can work with me to remedy this historical injustice once and for all.” 

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Pressure mounts on Britain to grant citizenship to descendants of deported Chagos Islanders

Joe Wallen  8 hrs agoLike3 Comments|8


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Pressure is growing on the British government to reverse a “historic injustice” and grant citizenship to the descendants of a group forcibly deported from their home islands to make way for a US military base in the 1970s.Diego Garcia, the largest island in the Chagos archipelago and site of a major United States military base in the middle of the Indian Ocean leased from Britain in 1966 - REUTERS © REUTERS Diego Garcia, the largest island in the Chagos archipelago and site of a major United States military base in the middle of the Indian Ocean leased from Britain in 1966 – REUTERS

The UK deported around 2,000 people from the Chagos Islands for the construction of the Diego Garcia base between 1967 and 1973. In return, the Chagossians were granted citizenship; but a loophole means many of their children and grandchildren were not.

This has left hundreds of second and third generation Chagossians in limbo, living undocumented in the UK or in Mauritius and the Seychelles, separated from their close family.

Now, a bill aiming to right this wrong is progressing through parliament. Henry Smith, MP for Crawley, home to the largest Chagossian community in the UK, has tabled an amendment that proposes that citizenship be offered to all Chagossian descendants. 

“The grandchildren of people who were British subjects, in the British Indian Ocean Territory, now find themselves with, in effect, no rights to British citizenship, despite the fact that it was no fault of their own that their grandparents and relatives were forcibly exiled from their home territory,” said Mr Smith.

“This injustice has existed for more than half a century…  I hope that the Government can work with me to remedy this historical injustice once and for all.” Maryolaine Permal, 60, says that borrowing money to pay for her sons failed visa applications has left her so destitute that she can only afford to eat one meal a day - David McHugh/Brighton Pictures© Provided by The Telegraph Maryolaine Permal, 60, says that borrowing money to pay for her sons failed visa applications has left her so destitute that she can only afford to eat one meal a day – David McHugh/Brighton Pictures

Much of the 3,300-strong British Chagossian community is considered ‘voluntarily homeless’ with several families sharing one home. Their finances have been crippled by the cost of applying for British citizenship with just one application costing thousands of pounds in legal fees and paperwork. 

“I want to study and help my parents but I can’t do that because I don’t have the paperwork and my applications have been rejected,” said Jovaniel, who moved to Manchester from Mauritius with his father, a second generation Chagossian who has a British passport. 

His younger brother’s application for citizenship was successful, but not his.

“I feel very depressed,” he says. 

Chagossians who have lived in the UK with their British parents since childhood have become ineligible to work, study or claim benefits since turning 18.

The detention and deportation of third generation Chagossians to Mauritius is ongoing, while “many more” have returned to Port Louis voluntarily after facing pressure from the British Home Office to leave.

A Freedom of Information Act request from The Telegraph found that 215 people had been deported from the United Kingdom to Mauritius between 2014 and 2018. The Home Office did not provide a breakdown on numbers of Chagossians deported within this figure.

Only second generation Chagossians born between the years of 1969 and 1983 are eligible for British citizenship, meaning siblings born a year apart are forced to live thousands of miles apart. 

Spouses of Chagossians with British passports are also being refused citizenship. Maria, 58, a Mauritian national, who has been in the UK since 2007 with her husband and four British children, was detained in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire for three months – an experience she described as “hell”.

“Just let me die here, with my family. I am not a bad person,” said Maria, who has spent over £20,000 on four unsuccessful spousal visa applications.

Returnees to Mauritius also face destitution, a country where many have never lived in as an adult and where they say they face discrimination.

International pressure is not only growing on the UK to allow the Chagossians to return to their ancestral homeland but also to return jurisdiction of the islands to Mauritius.

In 2019, the International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled unanimously that the UK should end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago, calling the forced removal of Chagossians from the islands a “wrongful act”.

Mauritius has said it would be prepared to allow the US-run Diego Garcia military base to continue in the Chagos Archipelago if it regained sovereignty.

“We had houses on the Chagos Islands, our homeland. The UK took our island and destroyed our homes, our families, our culture and our lives,” said Mylene, a second generation Chagossian with a British passport, who was stranded in Gatwick Airport for eight days when she arrived in the UK.

Back in London, a three-decades long legal battle to allow the Chagossians to return to their homeland is ongoing. High-profile human rights lawyer Amal Clooney is part of a team representing the Chagossians.

“If they don’t want to change the law and give us citizenship then we will return our passports and let us go back to the Chagos. My mother is ready, all our community is ready to go home,” said Mylene.

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