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Exiled Chagos Islanders get brief taste of their Paradise Lost

27 March 2006

Near a hundred exiles of the Chagos islands will pay a brief visit to their homelands (March 30), forty years after their illegal removal by the British Government to make way for a US military base on the main island, Diego Garcia.

Around 2,000 Chagossians were systematically removed from the archipelago following an agreement between the UK and US government in 1966 and the majority, have, along with their descendants, been left to live in poverty in neighboring Mauritius whilst fighting a High Court legal battle over their right to return.

The Foreign Commonwealth Office ‘humanitarian ‘ visits to outlying islands will last for just one day and have been secured after years of refusals to allow any of the former inhabitants to visit the islands.

The initial removal from their homes was declared unlawful in a landmark High Court victory in 2000, leading the government to promise they could return to at least some of the islands. However, the government stalled on even allowing visits citing reasons as diverse as weather hazards and mosquito infestation as well as apparent security risks the visits would pose to the US base.

In 2004, using an order in council, a power described as a little-used colonial relic, the government were able to bypass parliament and declare that the islanders had no right to live in their homeland.

The Chagossians have challenged the order and await a High Court Decision in the coming weeks.

Olivier Bancoult , who leads the Mauritius based community of Chagossians that have lobbied hard for this month’s trip said

‘ I have dreamed of being able to visit my native land for 38 years now. We are all very excited. Our Island community has been shattered by its expulsion from our homeland’

‘We expect to be able to tend to the graves of our ancestors as well as visiting the ruins of our former communities’

Ilana Rapaport, a spokesperson for Minority Rights Group International who have supported the Chagossians since 1982, said: ‘There is no denying the importance of the trip for Olivier and the Chagossian community, but a visit will satisfy only the most basic needs of a people that has fought relentlessly for their right to return as permanent inhabitants.’ ‘Their removal and the persistent excuses and legal wrangling the UK government have undertaken to deny the islanders their land rights is shocking.’ ‘The government have failed to explain why the Chagossians and the US military can’t co-exist on the islands and the rights of the Chagossians, themselves British subjects, still seem to be well below the government’s agenda of satisfying US foreign policy needs.’ ‘If the high court supports the Chagossians a second time and overturns the government’s decision to keep them from their lands then this visit ought to be the start of a long awaited resettlement.’

Notes for editors

For more information, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].