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Diego Garcia: A Contrast to the Falklands

1 February 1985

For over two centuries, the Ilois people had inhabited the beautiful islands of the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. They lived a simple, largely self-sufficient, life as fishermen and farmers, occasionally visiting Mauritius and other islands. Although the islands were administered by the British government the politics of colonialism were remote from the daily lives of the Ilois people. In the 1950s the British Colonial Office described the people of the islands as living ‘in surroundings of wonderful natural beauty and in conditions most tranquil and benign’.

In 1966 all this changed. Although the other islands in the British Indian Ocean Territories were granted independence, Diego Garcia was not included. Instead it was leased to the US as a military base. The Ilois were evacuated and transported to Mauritius where they were left to live – and die – in the slums of Port Louis without food, money, housing or compensation. Most suffered severely, including some who died of hunger. Today Diego Garcia is the largest US military base in the Indian Ocean and the Ilois are not allowed to return – either to live or visit.

Please note that the terminology in the fields of minority rights and indigenous peoples’ rights has changed over time. MRG strives to reflect these changes as well as respect the right to self-identification on the part of minorities and indigenous peoples. At the same time, after over 50 years’ work, we know that our archive is of considerable interest to activists and researchers. Therefore, we make available as much of our back catalogue as possible, while being aware that the language used may not reflect current thinking on these issues.

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John Madeley