Evicted to Make Way for a U.S. Military Base almost 50 Years Ago, Chagos Islanders May Finally Return Home
The former inhabitants of Diego Garcia who were kicked off their island home by the British so the United States could develop a key military base may soon get to return home after nearly 50 years in exile.
Diego Garcia, part of the Chagos archipelago in the Indian Ocean (now referred to as the British Indian Ocean Territory), was created as strategic naval and air base for the American military during the Cold War.
It also may have been involved in the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret rendition program, allegedly serving as a refueling site for clandestine flights carrying detainees and possibly functioning as a “black site” where suspected terrorists were interrogated.
But after more than a decade of legal battles, the British government may seriously consider allowing the Chagossian people to relocate back to the islands.
About 1,800 Chagossians were removed from Diego Garcia from 1967 to 1973. Some were resettled to England, while others were reportedly dumped in Mauritius and left to fend for themselves. Many received no compensation for being taken from their homes, and those who did saw little of it after middlemen pocketed a percentage for themselves.
“Most of us were very sick from the trip,” recalled one Chagossian, whose testimony appears on the UK Chagos Support Association website. “Many children died a few days after we reached Mauritius. We had no alternative but to beg and live outdoors. Some of us begged refuge at the place of people who would employ them, others were lucky to have relatives, but soon were forced to leave.”
More than half have of the Chagossians have died since their forced exile.
“It is 16 years since Chagossians began their campaign [to return home],” said David Snoxell, a former deputy commissioner of the British Indian Ocean Territory, told The Guardian. “It would be inconceivable for the coalition to refuse them the right to return, when the only possible obstacle is cost. The very least government can do is to try out a pilot resettlement on Diego Garcia.”
A feasibility study by the consultancy KPMG is expected to come out soon saying the repatriation is possible. But the cost associated with the effort—£64 million—has stirred some controversy.
Supporters of the Chagossians say the figure is inflated and unrealistic, and could be used by the British government to delay the decision.
It wouldn’t be the first time that repatriation is blocked. Leaked U.S. embassy cables revealed that the British government, in 2009, decided to launch an effort to have the archipelago declared as a marine park. Another incentive for keeping people off the island is that the government gets the benefit of a discount on purchase of U.S. nuclear weapons technology as long as it continues to allow the Americans to use Diego Garcia as a military base.
- Danny Biederman, Noel Brinkerhoff
To Learn More:
Exiles from Chagos Islands Given Hope of Returning Soon to Their Lost Paradise (by Jamie Doward, The Guardian)
The Eviction (UK Chagos Support Association)
British Gave 'Full Co-Operation' for CIA Black Jail on Diego Garcia, Report Claims (by Peter Foster, The Telegraph)
British Foreign Office Claims Documents Relating to CIA Abduction Program were “Accidentally” Destroyed (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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