Chagos Islanders living in exile from the territory claimed by Britain, and left destitute by the coronavirus downturn, have been refused support by the UK government, leaving some unable to buy enough food.
They question why a £40m support package – which was announced by the UK government in 2016 to assist Chagossians living in the UK, Mauritius and Seychelles – isn’t being used to help them during this time. The fund has gone largely unspent since its launch..
“We struggle to afford food. My mum is diabetic and needs medicine. We can’t buy it,” says Dominique Pierre, a now-jobless Chagossian living in Port Louis, the Mauritian capital. “We are cutting her pills in half to make them last, but she really needs to take one per day.”
Worried about how long they can sustain themselves, members of the community contacted the British High Commission in Mauritius to request help.
“Unfortunately, we regret to inform that there is no mechanism currently in place to implement a plan for the Chagossian community,” the Foreign Office responded in an email, seen by the Observer.
The plight of the Chagossians began in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the 2,000-strong population of the Chagos Islands was forcibly removed by Britain to allow the US military to establish a strategic air base on the largest island, Diego Garcia.
Islanders were exiled in Mauritius and the Republic of Seychelles, where many claim to have suffered discrimination and been excluded from employment and education opportunities. In 2002, native Chagossians and their children were given the right to British passports. Since then, more than 3,000 have emigrated to the UK, the majority settling in Crawley, West Sussex.
The £40m fund, which was to be spent over 10 years, was launched in November 2016, when the British government announced it had extended the lease for the US to continue hosting its military base on Diego Garcia. While the base is in operation the UK government has forbidden the exiled islanders from resettling, despite their long campaign for their right to return.
Unfortunately there is no mechanism in place to implement a plan for the Chagossian community UK Foreign Office