Published on : Thursday, December 23, 2021
Half a century after the UK forcibly evicted them from their island homes, Chagossians are still fighting for British citizenship.
The inhabitants of the Chagos Islands – an archipelago of around 60 islands in the Indian Ocean, located almost 6,000 miles from England – were kicked out of their homeland between the late 1960s and 1973 to make way for a US military base on Diego Garcia, the largest of its atolls. Initially sent to Mauritius and the Seychelles, the former inhabitants and their descendants are not permitted to go back permanently.
For this reason, the Chagossian diaspora now stretches from Port Louis to Crawley. In their exile, those born on the islands, as well as their descendants, lobby for their right of return and, in the shorter term, for a secure life in the United Kingdom.
But under Home Office rules introduced in 2002, not all the expellees’ children and grandchildren qualify for British overseas territory citizenship, which would be a step towards securing a British passport. As a result, families continue to suffer the pain of separation.
This has had a profound effect on people like Frankie Bontemps, 52, whose parents were both born in the Chagos Islands, which are known to the UK as the British Indian Ocean Territory.
The NHS worker, a Crawley resident like several thousand other Chagossians, has two older sisters who are unable to move to England from Mauritius. Eight of his aunt’s nine children are likewise barred from the UK. There are hundreds of other people in a similar position to them, he said.
Bontemps, who helped found the community group Chagossian Voices, explained the arbitrary nature of the British immigration system towards Chagossians by pointing out his own luck.