Refugees from the last British colony want to go home

Diego Garcia in the Chagos Archipelago. (Photo source: U.S. Department of Defense)
Diego Garcia in the Chagos Archipelago. (Photo source: U.S. Department of Defense)

Exiled for more than 50 years, Chagossians may yet return to their island home.

The British government first removed all 2,000 residents of the Chagos Archipelago, then leasing the newly renamed British Indian Ocean Territory to the United States, which installed its Diego Garcia military base.

They had been part of Mauritius, but, the latter country claims this that the surrender of the Chagos islands was the price of its own independence from the United Kingdom.

Increasing pressure

Refugees, marginalized and impoverished, were scattered to Mauritius, the Seychelles, and the U.K.; advocacy groups have fought for decades for the right to return.

Political pressure has also been increasing.

U.S. personnel bringing equipment onto Diego Garcia, 1971. (Source: Geodesy Collection/Wikimedia Commons)

In February the International Court of Justice ruled in an advisory opinion that the 1965 evictions of the Chagossians was unlawful.

In May, the United Nations General Assembly approved by a large margin a resolution supporting the evicted population, and setting a six-month deadline to prepare for returning Chagossians.

In September, on a visit to Mauritius, Pope Francis also had words of support for the islanders during an outdoor Mass for 100,000 people.

Families descended from Chagossian refugees living in the U.K. are facing additional issues, including intolerance and substandard government housing.

One refugee, now 74, told the BBC his childhood memories of the island up to his 10th year were of an idyllic place without hard currency or modern pressures, while whole generations have since grown up without ever seeing their ancestral home.

Protestors in Trafalgar Square in 2018. (Source: Flickr/Google image cache)

Within the British Parliament the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and others are supporters of returning the colony to Mauritius.

Looking to the future

Despite many differences within refugee factions in the past, it appears that resettlement will be a united effort on the part of the entire Chagossian diaspora.

It remains to be seen whether the British and Americans will actually abide by the ruling and vote, and allow the Chagossians to resettle. 

Sources: Seychelles New Agency, Bloomberg, CNN, The Guardian (U.K.), Reuters, BBC News (U.K.)

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