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Families evicted from Chagos islands entitled to settle in the UK says MP

Financial Times article by Robert Wright 8 November 2021

Please use this link to read the excellent article by Robert Wright of the Financial Times about the plight of the Chaggosian children of descent. Our campaign wholeheartedly supports the extension of citizenship by descent.

Families evicted from Chagos islands entitled to settle in UK, says MP

Descendants of those forcibly removed over US air base face ‘similarities to the Windrush situation’

A Conservative MP is seeking to remedy what he has called an injustice reminiscent of the Windrush scandal through a legislative amendment to secure the rights of Chagos islanders in the United Kingdom.

The amendment, drawn up by Henry Smith, MP for Crawley, would ensure that descendants of British citizens forcibly removed from the British Indian Ocean Territory between 1965 and 1973 would automatically be eligible for British citizenship. The islanders were evicted from the territory to either Mauritius or the Seychelles to facilitate the building of a US air base on Diego Garcia, the largest island and the only one that was permanently inhabited.

The children of many of the islanders born in Mauritius and the Seychelles lack the rights conferred by the British citizenship they would have enjoyed if they had been born in the Chagos islands. Some islanders were allowed to settle in the UK in 2002, with around 3,000 now living in Crawley, south of London and another 300 in Manchester.

“Because their grandparents were forcibly removed from the islands, they’ve lost their rights,” Smith said. “They’ve suffered a lot of injustice over the last half-century, being forcibly removed, being effectively dumped in fairly poverty-stricken conditions.”

British nationality can normally be handed down only one generation to a child born outside British territory. The result has been that, even if they grew up in the UK, many children of Chagos islander parents born in Mauritius or the Seychelles after they became independent lack automatic British citizenship rights. Mauritius became independent in 1968 and the Seychelles in 1976.

The International Court of Justice in 2019 ruled the UK’s administration of the islands was a breach of international law and they should be ceded to Mauritius.

Smith said the Chagossians’ situation had parallels to that of thousands of Commonwealth citizens who settled in the UK before 1973 who were granted an automatic right to remain in the UK but whose rights were often not recognised. Many lost jobs, access to the NHS or were removed from the UK, in an affair known as the Windrush scandal. “There are similarities to the Windrush situation,” Smith said.

Tom Pursglove, a junior Home Office minister, on Thursday told a meeting of a committee considering the Nationality and Borders Bill currently going through parliament that he had some reservations but would consider action to resolve the issue.

“In relation to this Chagossian issue, there’s a willingness to go away and think carefully about it,” he said.

Smith’s amendment would entitle anyone directly descended from a Chagossian born on the islands with British citizenship before November 1965 to the citizenship rights.

Frankie Bontemps, acting chair of Chagossian Voices, a group representing the exiles, said their disrupted education meant that many of those facing problems struggled with the requirements of their existing routes to citizenship. These often demand applicants pass English-language tests or earn stipulated minimum amounts.

“We hope that this will go through,” Bontemps said. “We’re talking about perhaps a few thousand people. They have an opportunity to correct an injustice.”

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