Between 1968 to 1973 the UK islanders deported to make way for a US Air base and 3,000 settled in Crawley, West Sussex but now risk being deported because they were not born in the UK
Glistening white sands and blue waters greeted islanders to their long-lost home… but the stench of British injustice cast a dark cloud over their celebrations.
In the Indian Ocean, five Chagos islanders set foot on their homeland, some for the first time in 50 years.
News of their symbolic visit to the UK territory was beamed around the world. And few were watching more closely than 3,000 Chagossians who resettled in Crawley, West Sussex – many of them embroiled in a battle to stay in Britain.
They are caught in a bureaucratic trap which could see them separated from family because of where they were born.
The injustice dates back to 1968 to 1973, when the UK islanders deported to make way for a US Air base.
Families were forced on boats and sent to Mauritius and the Seychelles. Even dogs were rounded up and gassed.
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Some subsequent generations resettled in the UK – but because their birthplace was outside of British territory they could face deportation.
The UN has said the UK acted unlawfully and Mauritius is laying claim to the islands on behalf of the Chagossians.
Mauritian authorities organized last week’s island trip to highlight the issue. But 6,000 miles away, in the gray shadow of Gatwick airport, some of the Chagossians say the stunt is a distraction from their fight to stay in the UK.
Baroness Lister, a Labor peer who is supporting the community, said: “The Government says that descendants of British nationals born and raised outside of the UK or its overseas territories don’t have the right to citizenship.
“But the reason some islanders were born outside of British territory is because we evicted them. They never had a choice. We must put right what is a blatant injustice.”
Labor is proposing an amendment to the Nationalities and Borders Bill that would give relatives of those evicted a route to British citizenship.
It would be a lifeline for Louis Marie, 70, who fears his wife will be deported because she is a Mauritian citizen.
He said: “It has had a terrible impact on my family. She is my wife of 43 years yet I am afraid she will be deported.
Pictures From History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
“We have had to spend almost £10,000 so far on visas and legal fees just for her to stay in the country. I can’t go on like this, I feel powerless. My heart is sad. If the island was open I could live happily with her there – but we were forced to leave to make way for a military base.”
The Crawley Chagossians are African Creole and came to the UK after they say they were mistreated in Mauritius, ruled by a majority Hindu government.
Mylene Augustin, 52, who organizes a lunch for elderly Chagossians, said: “Both Mauritius and Britain are still treating us like we’re slaves. When they deported us, the British said they needed the islands to protect the world. Who’s protecting us?”
Guardian / eyevine)
The situation has been likened to the Windrush scandal of 2017 that saw elderly Britons born on former colonies in the Caribbean deported from the UK.
Mauritian national Merlyne Lamb, 75, has lived in the UK for almost 10 years.
Her husband Michel, 79, was born on the Chagos and is a British citizen, as are her children and grandchildren. Yet she cannot sleep for fear of deportation—because of the loophole.
She said: “When my landlord came and said I was to be deported I fainted and they had to call an ambulance.
“I have been married for 51 years. How can we be separated? I would rather die than be sent back to Mauritius.”
The Home Office said: “The Government is seeking to address historical unfairness through the New Plan for Immigration and some measures will benefit Chagossians.
“Non-UK nationals resident in the UK may apply for naturalization if they meet the qualifying criteria and there are arrangements for minors to register as British citizens.”