Dear Mr. President,
We, the natives of the Chagos Archipelagos, are writing to let you know that the land that the United States Navy and U.S Air Force are using as a military base, is our island.
Diego Garcia is being used to control the greater Middle East, if not the world at present. We, the Chagossians, are owners of the land, and our children are still alive. Both the U.S and Great Britain have recently come to an agreement to renew the lease of using our islands for war purposes for another 19 years, without our consultation. You have dishonoured our lands by using them to illegally render people caught up in your ‘war on terror’, to ‘black sites’ for torture whilst trying to hide from the world your immoral crimes. Some of these unfortunate people have been compensated for the injustices they suffered, and we the Chagossians continue to be downtrodden as our home is used to oppress others. You have ignored us for too long. It is time to hear from the Chagossians themselves – CHAGOS BELONGS TO THE CHAGOSSIANS. We are determined to reclaim our rights and use our property for the purposes of promoting our peaceable culture.
WHO ARE THE CHAGOSSIANS?
Chagossians are the people from the Chagos Archipelago. We, as a people, were immorally rent from our homes in India, Africa and Malaysia. We were taken as slave property, and put to work in coconut plantations within the Chagos Archipelago. Our history, our names, our identity, and finally our dignity, were stripped from us so that we could never know ourselves. In the Chagos, we were eventually recognised as human and declared incapable of being owned, something that should be obvious to all of humanity. We intermarried, and toiled to create ourselves a new identity and history, which would be anchored in the land that we worked on, and in the families we bore and nurtured. Having taken our heritage and prospered from our labour, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the entire population of the Chagos Islands was once again forcibly removed from our new homeland by the British Government, in order to make way for a secret U.S military base.
The Americans asked for our islands to be swept and sanitized of us – the people of colour. On April 16th 1971, the United Kingdom issued a policy called BIOT Immigration Ordinance #1, which made it a criminal offense for those without military clearance to be present on the islands without a permit. We were made criminals by virtue of not being given permits to live in our own homes; we were criminalised for our inconvenient existence.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE CHAGOSSIANS?
A deal was made between the British Government and Mauritius. The Chagossians were expelled from our homeland and dumped into the slums of Mauritius and the Seychelles. Mauritius fell over itself to agree to take money from the British Government and obtain its independence, whilst simultaneously riding the backs of the Chagossians for cheap, unskilled labour. The nation was at the same time pocketing the money allocated for our so-called compensation; a sum never agreed upon by the Chagossians themselves. Yes, a token gesture of a sum of money was given to ostensibly look after the Chagossians. In reality, its purpose was to assuage what remained of a Christian conscience within the British, and breathe life into the fiction of a deal having been struck.
The Chagossians became orphans with no government to look after us or our interests. Mauritius kept our money and our labour, and with the cash and toil started developing its island; a situation entirely foreseeable by the British Government of the day. The UK never looked back to check on our welfare and we were left stranded. In the subsequent years, having been rent from our lands twice and stripped of our hard-earned identity, many died of their sorrows. Sorrows which had led to drug abuse, mental illness and alcoholism were spawned out of forced dislocation to host nations, and the simultaneous rejection through racism of the host population. When we were on our own islands, such ailments and misery were unknown.
Three years after the deportations, Chagossians were forced to go on strike to fight against the shameful treatment they had received. Regrettably, the Chagossian community who had never been given any formal education, and thus held no knowledge of the value of money, or indeed the land stolen from them, were given a measly ‘compensation’ grant. The funds were not enough for them to even pay their accumulated debts, meaning the recipients continued to struggle to survive. A few Chagossians refused to take the derisory £700 offered at the time, whilst those living in the Seychelles were not even offered any compensation. Chagossians never knew nor understood money’s worth, as they rarely used money on the island. We had survived with our plot of land, house, agriculture and fishing; money was not a system of order relevant to us in our homeland.
WHY DID THE CHAGOSSIANS ALLOW SUCH A DEAL TO HAPPEN?
Unfortunately, it was an expulsion of the weak in the interests of the powerful, with a callous disregard of the interests of the little people. Chagossians were threatened with being shot or bombed, and that we would not be fed any longer if we didn’t leave our islands. Pets were gassed in front of our eyes. Food stores on the island were allowed to deplete in order to starve us into leaving. We were forced to sign documents upon our arrival in Mauritius, written in legalistic English, whilst our elders had not even a basic grasp of the language. This was a repeat of a game perfected by the British with the American Indians. Chagossians never agreed to leave their islands. It was a coerced removal, to which we were powerless against due to the threat of guns and starvation.
WHY ARE WE WRITING TO YOU MR PRESIDENT?
Mr President – we are writing to you for our sakes, for the sake of the dignity of our elders who were native born to the Chagos Islands, and for the sake of our descendants. We declare that whatever deals you have entered into, to justify the theft of our land and its misuse as an engine of war, do not stand.
It is time that the old agreement is reviewed and both the U.S and U.K must recognise the Chagossians as the only party with standing to make such agreements. Despite our disadvantages, Chagossians have organised to bring legal battle upon legal battle, in the courts which have been set up by the very powers that oppress us. We are not going to lose hope. We understand the value of our heritage and the geopolitical nature of our land that you occupy. We, the Chagossians, are respected by the community of humans who have morality in their hearts and justice in their lives. We will be treated in a dignified manner. All countries should recognise our communities’ worth, and the crimes that have been effected upon us. Chagossians have been victims of theft, fraud corruption and basic denial of humanity at the highest level. Our country is being used to threaten the whole world through deception. At our age, we should have been living peacefully and carefree in our land of birth, but unfortunately, we are being denied our fundamental rights: – to live, die, be buried and honoured in our birthplace.
We understand that out of the 65 islands in our nation, only one is being used – Diego Garcia. So far, no one has been ready to listen to our chants of ‘CHAGOS BELONGS TO THE CHAGOSSIANS’ and ‘LET US RETURN’. Mr. Trump, the world is consistent in only one thing and that is change. We are unhappy in our country of exile; we do not want to live amongst people who do not want us and have wronged us over centuries. The clear aim behind renewing the lease of our islands for another 19 years is guarantee that all the natives of the islands will pass before a satisfactory and moral resolution. When this original generation of Chagossians ceases to exist, it will simply become even more difficult for their descendants to claim back the islands. The Mauritian government is claiming sovereignty over our land, and the British government is ignoring our cries for justice. We are not going to give up on our country. The British and the Americans are not the only ones who possess ears.
CHAGOSSIANS ARE NO DANGER TO THE U.S. CHAGOSSIANS are no threat to the defence and security interests of the U.S. Chagossians have never been to war with any country; we merely fight for justice. Together, we can peacefully cohabit on the island. Great Britain accepted KPMG’s report stating that the return of the indigenous people is ‘practically feasible’. The report confirmed that resettlement could be economically, environmentally and socially successful!
MESSAGE FROM OUR ELDERS
A sacrifice needs to be made to achieve our aims and objectives. We, the Chagossians, have sacrificed much and we continue to sacrifice what human and material resources we have for our plight. As more time passes and the elders amongst us die, our descendants are imbued with a greater sense of purpose through the witnessing of our unjust passing in a foreign land.
Leaders in democracy and human rights – be honourable in your claims, lead by example, and not mere soundbites. Such noble concepts have become industries where the less scrupulous and less talented vie for careerism, and sully the institutions of good in their selective concern. We, the Chagossians, are not unique in our suffering, but we are unique in that our suffering has happened in front of your eyes and in the presence of your silence. We are not going to stay quiet and let others utilise our property and our land for inhumane purposes, and we will not be ethnically cleansed.
Below are links where you can find out more about us and how we were brutally expelled from our homeland: http://johnpilger.com/videos/stealing-a-nation or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NomdcCBEtJAibu and Island of Shame The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia by David Vine.
We hope to hear from you Mr. President. We hope that you will take note of our communication and start a dialogue with your ally, Great Britain, and us the Chagossians.
Chagos Islanders Movement