Hailed as one of the most secretive, unsolved, unjust aspects of the British empire.
Beginning in the late 1960s the British government removed the population of around 2,000 people from the Chagos islands in the Indian Ocean. This policy was pursued as quietly as possible to ensure minimal international attention. Subsequently, successive British governments over nearly four decades have maintained this policy by not disclosing the fact that the islanders were permanent inhabitants.
The depopulation was done at the behest of the United States government to make way for a military base on the largest island in the Chagos group – Diego Garcia. Diego Garcia is now a large US military base used as a launch pad for intervention in the Middle East, most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq.
All the while, the Chagossians, most of whom have been living in exile in poverty, have been campaigning for proper compensation and for the right to return to their homeland. Their nation has been stolen; but their plight has been little reported on in the media and little analysed by academics.
The British government of Tony Blair delivered the latest blow to the hopes of the Chagossians in June 2004. After a long legal battle, the Chagossians had won an historic High Court ruling in 2000 allowing their return to the outlying islands in the Chagos group, but later the same day the Government announced that they would not be allowing them to return to Diego Garcia. In 2004, the British government announced two “orders in council” to bar the Chagossians from returning even to the outlying islands, in effect, overturning the High Court ruling. Foreign O ce minister Bill Rammell said that as a result of the new orders “no person has the right of abode in the territory or has unrestricted access to any part of it” .
The Chagossians in exile now number around 4,500. Many are old and frail and want little more than to revisit their homeland to find their final resting-place. For all of them, their struggle is for basic justice and for a redress to the wrongs done to them.
- BEHIND THE SCENE