On February 5 a group of exiled Chagossians will once again fight for the right to return to their homeland, as the UK government tries for the third time to get a court ruling which would prevent the islanders going back to their homes in the remote Chagos archipelago, in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
The islanders have already won two legal cases in the UK courts – in 2000 and 2006 – that ruled their expulsion, was illegal. Their removal began in the 1960s, after the US and UK reached a secret deal to turn the island of Diego Garcia into a US military base, without local inhabitants.
The last remaining islanders were forced onto over-crowded cargo ships in 1972, and dumped in Mauritius and the Seychelles, without jobs, resettlement help or compensation.
As this third phase of litigation starts in the Court of Appeal, Minority Rights Group International is warning that the government is frittering away tax-payers money – already running over £1.5 million pounds according to the government's own 2005 figures – instead of ploughing the money back into the rightful return of the Chagossians.
MRG's Head of Advocacy Clive Baldwin says, "One of Margaret Beckett's first decisions as Foreign Secretary was to appeal against the High Court judgement, and therefore spend more of British taxpayers' money in trying to prevent a few thousand islanders returning to their ancestral homes, on islands which are now abandoned."
"We hope the Court of Appeal will be as strong in protecting the basic rights of islanders as was the High Court."
Allegations that Diego Garcia – the biggest island in the Chagos chain – is being used by US security forces, as a transit point for the controversial 'extra-ordinary renditions' programme have surfaced repeatedly.
Olivier Bancoult, who leads the Mauritius based community of Chagossians, will be heading a protest outside 10 Downing Street at 12 noon on Monday February the 5th.
The Chagossians lived a unique way of life on the tiny islands in the Indian Ocean, characterized by a matriarchal culture and a no cash economy. The majority of the exiles have been left to live in grinding poverty in neighbouring Mauritius whilst a small UK community, mainly based in Crawley, has also experienced hardship.
For more information or to arrange an interview with Clive Baldwin or Olivier Bancoult please contact Farah Mihlar or Emma Eastwood on +44 (0)207 4224205 (office) or +44 (0)78 70596863 (mobile).
Please visit the UK Chagos Support Association’s blog for the latest on the current court case at http://chagosuk.blogspot.com