Timeline of our fight for justice with the UK Government
Our struggle finally reached the UK courts. We have fought and are still fighting for our basic human and legal rights. Our exile stripped us of our right of abode; to live in our homeland. Our exile, in fact, directly violates a clause of the Magna Carta, the foundational document of English law and global human rights: (“no man shall be exiled except by a jury of his peers”).
Victory!! – The British High Court ruled we had a right to return to our homeland.
High Court ruling from October 2003, which denied us compensation.
The Royal Prerogative bans us from our homeland which can be regarded as a second exile in 2004 overruling the victory in 2000. Royal orders were suddenly passed which banned anyone from setting foot on the Chagos islands. This blow was followed a few days later, by the refusal of permission to appeal a High Court ruling from October 2003, which denied us of compensation.
We were appalled by the British Government effectively nullifying a verdict of its own High Court, we challenged the legality of the 2004 Orders-in-Council in the High Court.
Victory!! – High Court deemed the orders illegal. This gave us back the right of return that we won in 2000.
But it wouldn’t be the last time – the Government appealed against the ruling, and a year later, was defeated again at the Court of Appeal, with the judges calling its treatment of our people unlawful and an abuse of power. It then took its appeal to the House of Lords, where the Law Lords ruled by a majority of three-to-two to allow the government’s appeal.
In short, this means that the highest court in the land has decided the ‘Orders in Council’, which were used secretly to renew our eviction in 2004, were indeed legal, despite the High Court and Court of Appeal having said otherwise. Despite every court having backed our right to return over the past ten years, the opinion of one judge seemed to close the door on the legal battle. Still, we didn’t give up and took our case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
In spite of the ECHR urging the Government to come to an out-of-court settlement with the Chagossian people, the Foreign Office chose to fight the case, rather than admit the fact that our removal was, and remains, a gross violation of our rights as human beings.
The court delivered its verdict. Despite condemning the “callous and shameful” behavior of the UK Government in their treatment of our people, the Court found in favor of the UK Government. Their verdict rested on the belief that Chagossians had already received compensation which prevented any further challenge to the lawfulness of our removal. This was a verdict we disagreed with on several grounds. Our natives widely reported that in agreeing to compensation this condition was not explained.
The document they were asked to sign was written in legalistic English, whilst many of our elders had not even a basic grasp of the language. In any case, not everyone received this compensation (not delivered until the mid-1980s) and much of its real value was reduced by inflation, legal and administrative fees. The amount was a pittyful £1000.
KPMG reporting that resettlement was economically feasible in their study dated 2014.
In 2015 we took our case to the Supreme Court, challenging the validity of the 2008 Law Lords verdict on the basis that key evidence had been withheld by the Government. The evidence in question, were papers acknowledging that an early 2000s feasibility study (which suggested that Chagossian return would be difficult), was highly flawed.
The verdict was then delivered on the 29th of June 2016. Our challenge was narrowly rejected by a vote of 3:2, although the UK government was deeply criticised in the Supreme Court’s judgement. Despite defeat, the judgement was not entirely negative as Judges confirmed that this was “not the end of the road,” and that new evidence about viability of return meant that the government’s legal ban on return should be revisited.
The prospect of decades more legal action, in which the UK government would need to spend millions of pounds in taxpayers’ funds, fighting its own citizens right to live in their homeland, should be the motivation the UK government needed to finally end this senseless and cruel exile.
In November 2016, the government decided against our resettlement on the grounds of feasibility, defence and security interest and cost to the taxpayers, despite KPMG reporting that resettlement was economically feasible in their study dated 2014.
There has been much talk in Parliament, of recognizing the ‘historical wrong’. Unfortunately, it has been just that – TALK, whilst families remain divided.
We Chagossians have suffered from being deported from our homeland. We were then given our rights as British citizens, only to find that there were no support mechanisms put in place for us to properly survive and establish ourselves here in the UK, with our extended families.
We were then faced with the trauma of our loved ones being deported and removed from us, without recognition that our circumstances are exceptional;
- The British Government limited who could retain a British Passport.
- Only 1st generation of Chagossians can have a British passport.
- The 2nd generation of Chagossians born between April 1969 and the 1st of January 1983, could exile in Britain.
- The 3rd generation did not get a passport.
Once more, we are being separated from our family with the rule being spouses or children are not granted a visa when exiling in the UK, enormous fees for visa application or the language barrier are breaking families apart. The lack of insight by this administration of the pain and suffering that current nationality and immigration policies has on our community, is unforgivable.
Now in 2017 we are still fighting for the right to return. The United Kingdom has renewed our land for another 20 years to the US. Chagossians hope, concerns, anxieties and opinions were not taken into consideration during the renewal of the base.
We are determined now more than ever that until we can return, we will not allow any Government to forget about our generations; ‘Chagos belongs to the Chagossian, we are the owners’. Whilst our lands are being used and the lease renewed without our consent, we are not going to sit and let the Governments manipulate our life and rights. We are being taken for granted just because we are black.
The British Government has decided to gift us with a £40 million ‘support package’. It is described as ‘a voluntary offer of help’ by the government. The money would be divided across 10 years, £4 million given each year, for the council to assist the community, wherever they may be. In turn, we suggested a reality check. Is this not an extension of the compensation? Or is it a bribe? To get our community to back down from our struggle to resettle back on Chagos. What will happen after 10 years?
Both Governments have a duty of care towards us but they continue to be in denial. Our story, struggle, discrimination, injustice, have touched so many people but not reached the powerful leaders. The champion of Human Rights has put so many restrictions on us and continues to treat us in an undignified manner; no one should be deprived of their property.
The Court of Justice refused to let us settle back on our island, yet British Government continue to separate us from our family. Their attitude demonstrates clearly that they are waiting for the first generation of Chagossians to die, so that they may claim the island as their own and call an end to our lineage.
We have decided to fight for not only our right of return but for the welfare of our community, no matter where they may reside. For as long as they are using our country as a military base to protect the world, the Chagossians will not be forgotten.
Chagossians are standing firm, supporting each other in the community, of which, are facing many problems, mainly with immigration, housing and poverty. Together we work hard in protesting against the unfair immigration laws, which do not take into account our own unique history and because of cut off dates for eligibility of the British Citizenship, many are faced with deportation.
Some are already in deportation centres currently awaiting deportation, thus dividing families even more. We believe that there is an urgent need for the government to amend the immigration bill in order for full British Citizenship to be granted to all of our descendants. Chagossian descendants should be exempt from the unfair immigration rules in place.
In the year 2017 some are still homeless or living in shacks made from rusty tin sheets in Mauritius. In Britain, the rent increases with each year, making it more difficult to afford housing, thus families with children are also faced with homelessness. We are greeted by the authorities with blatant racism and a complete misunderstanding of our history, asking us to return to our homeland. Our families are also enduring the trauma of loss and separation caused by our enforced exile and migrations. Poverty, isolation, mental health problems, substance abuse and homelessness are rife in our community. Both the United Kingdom and United States of America have abandoned us.
There are political complexities surrounding these issues thus making our voices very difficult to be heard locally, as well as internationally. Both governments are toying with our feelings and emotions. We were deported from the Chagos Island and that in itself has been accepted to be a historical wrong. Our message is that our struggles are one and our voices are to be heard. We say NO to the violation of human rights! NO to deportations! NO to racism! NO to homelessness! Respect our right of return is a fundamental right as human being!