Next generation of Chagos exiles resists deportation

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Next generation of Chagos exiles resists deportation

First the British evicted the descendants of the Chagossians from their island home. Now they are facing deportation from Britain, the same country that made them exiles. Katie McQue reports:

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Dominique Elysee has lived in exile all his life. His mother gave birth to him in Mauritius, after she travelled there while pregnant. The island is near the UK-owned Chagos islands. She was forbidden to return home. For this was 1968, when British forces were moving everyone from the islands. This was to make space for the United States to build a military base on the biggest island, Diego Garcia.

That short visit to Mauritius for his mother became years, and she could not go home.

Now Dominique is 50, and he is living in the town of Crawley, near Gatwick airport, with his mother and sister. But he is not a British citizen, and he cannot work even with qualifications in English, IT, and six years’ experience as a head chef in Ireland. If he had been born on the Chagos Islands, like his mother, he would have the right to a UK passport.

‘All I want is the right to live and work in this country, the UK. I have nowhere else to go. My family are from Chagos. The UK Government forced them to move and they now live here,’ says Dominique. ‘If the Government will not let me stay here, then they must allow me to live on Chagos.’

Dominique’s case will be in London’s High Court, where he has asked for the right to British Citizenship. To support him a group of about 100 Chagossians will protest outside the courts. They will give attention to the immigration problems of people who the British and Americans made refugees.

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Dominique, second from right, protests with other Chagossians. Photo: UK Chagos Support Association

In July 2018, a committee of UK MPs supported a bill to allow the descendants of people born on the Chagos Islands to register as a British Overseas Territories Citizen (BOTC), to give them the right to stay in the UK. The Chagos is a group of UK-owned islands in the Indian Ocean. The British evicted everyone in one of the worst examples of British postcolonial aggression. The American military base is the same distance from Tanzania and Indonesia and is important because it is near to the Middle East and Afghanistan. The Americans don’t seem to want to give it up, and the Chagossians are forbidden from returning.

Instead, they were made refugees, and left in nearby Mauritius and Seychelles. They received no support to rebuild their lives in the foreign lands, and they are not allowed to return to their homeland.

The New Internationalist has found poor working conditions for the Filipino contractors working on the military base on Diego Garcia, and also a serious risk of explosions because of the US military’s use of the island. This may be why the Chagossians’ fight to return has been denied.

There are fourteen British Overseas Territories, which are territories under the rule of the UK. They include the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, the Cayman Islands, and Montserrat. Queen Elizabeth II is their head of state.

A citizen from one of these territories is British, but they cannot pass on their citizenship to their children if they are born outside the UK or a qualifying territory. After a long fight, won in the early 2000s, the Home Office allowed Chagossians born in exile between 26 April 1969 and 1 January 1983 to become British Citizens. Because he was born in March 1968, Dominique cannot have citizenship. These rights were also not given to the second generation born in exile.

The fact that children of Chagossians are born outside their homeland is not their fault, but the result of their forced exile. But they are treated by the UK’s Home Office as immigrants. To stay they have to go through a very expensive naturalization process.

It is worst for the youngest members of Chagossian families. Because the cost of getting British Citizenship is often more than £10,000, many families cannot make the payments. Chagossian children have been detained or deported when they are adults, even if their parents are British citizens.

Dorinder Lindor is one of those affected. She is a third generation Chagossian in exile.She came to the UK from Mauritius as a teenager with her single mother and three younger brothers, in 2011. Her mother found a job working long hours as a cleaner, and Dorinder cared for her little brothers at home.

In 2012, at the time of Dorinder’s 18th birthday, she applied for indefinite leave to remain in the UK. Her application arrived at the Home Office two days late, and she was refused.

She was given the right to appeal, but she didn't right away. She could not really speak English, and the forms she had to fill out were difficult to understand.

After three years of fighting to stay with her family she was arrested and put into Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, before she was deported to Mauritius. She is now forced to live in a country thousands of miles from her family.

It is important to note that if they had not been driven from their motherland, all Chagossians would have the right to register as a British Overseas Territories Citizen. The home affairs committee described this situation as wrong. The Chagossians were evicted from their homeland and for many this has also taken away their citizenship.

The British Indian Ocean Territory (Citizenship) Bill was first presented in Parliament by Henry Smith, the Conservative MP for Crawley, in January 2018. It has been supported by MPs from all parties but it is still not clear if it will be passed into law.

It it passes into law, it will allow anybody that is of Chagossian descent to register as a British Overseas Territories Citizen. The costs of having British Citizenship would be reduced from about £10,000 to £2000.

A Home Affairs Committee recommended support for the bill as part of a report on the Windrush generation published at the start of July 2108.

The HMT Empire Windrush was a ship which carried one of the first groups of post-war Caribbean immigrants to the UK. The UK invited them to help with job shortages, often in the health service.

But, under Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ policy, many who have been lawfully living in the UK for many decades have been treated as illegal. This has caused people to lose their homes and jobs, and to not have healthcare, pensions, and access to social security. Some of these people have been held in detention.Ohers have been removed or deported from the UK.

The mistreatment of the Windrush generation has been brought to the public’s attention by journalists, but the Chagossians’ problems have not been reported.

The Home Affairs Committee saw similarities between the Chagossians’ situation and the Windrush scandal. They are yet another group of people whose descendants are fighting to have British citizenship.

The Government must now consider the report.

'For many of the second and third generation it will be like a dream come true. Many of us are waiting for the British government to do the right thing for the Chagossians,’ says Sabrina Jean, a second generation Chagossian and chair of Chagos Refugees UK. ‘It’s time.’

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: https://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2018/07/16/diego-garcia-second-exile

(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)