TWO hundred Chagos Islanders and their supporters demonstrated in London on Monday, demanding their right to return home after 40 years of exile imposed on them by the British government.
They were at the Court of Appeal in the Strand, before demonstrating outside Downing Street because the British government is appealing against a ruling last year that they have the right to go back to their islands in the Indian Ocean.
At the centre of their dispute with successive British governments is the island of Diego Garcia.
It has been turned into a giant US military base, after the British government leased the islands to the American government and organised the eviction of the islanders.
Ann Stewart, from Edinburgh, told News Line: ‘I have visited Mauritius and I found the Chagossians living there in absolute poverty.
‘Many of them have low-paid jobs and they feel totally let down by the British government.
‘Olivier, one of the leaders of the islanders, told me that when he was four years old he was taken from the islands to Mauritius because his sister was ill. And then his sister died.
‘But the family were not allowed to return home.
‘What would you do if you were on the Isle of Wight and you suddenly found that you were not allowed to return to England?’
Sylvia Boyes, from the UK Chagos Support Association, told News Line: ‘I came down from Yorkshire to attend the High Court today because for a long time I’ve been campaigning for the closure of American military bases and Diego Garcia in the Chagos Islands is one of the largest American bases, from where the Chagossians were removed.
‘The Americans are opposed to any resettlement on any of the islands, which demonstrates once again that the Americans are in control of our military and foreign policies.’
Jean-Paul Selmar, from the Chagos Islands, said: ‘I was born in 1966. Between 1968 and 1974 the Chagossians were removed by force from our islands after the British government made a deal with the American government to hand them all the islands including Diego Garcia, which is now their main military base.
‘These are our islands. The British government had no right to hand them over to America. It’s our motherland.
‘Nothing has changed for us since we were forced off our islands.
‘It was a crime. But we have received no compensation, nothing.
‘We are demonstrating today to demand that our right to return is upheld.’
Sabrina Jean said: ‘My parents were born on the Chagos Islands – on Peros Island – and I grew up in Mauritius.
‘Some islanders died on the way to Mauritius. They were so upset at being forced off the islands that they threw themselves into the sea – they decided they would rather die than be forced to leave their motherland against their will.
‘Islanders were separated from each other, even families.
‘Some ended up in Mauritius, some in the Seychelles.’
‘My parents told me their history. They were dumped in Mauritius with no home.
‘They slept on the streets and in steel containers. They had no food, no money, nothing.
‘We came to Britain to look for work and homes and to demand the right to return to our islands.’
Lawyer Richard Gifford said: ‘This is the government’s attempt to overrule the decision last May when the High Court ruled in favour of the islanders and said they had the right to go back home, making some quite severe criticism of the government’s handling of the case.
‘They called it “unnatural and repugnant’’.
‘My client, Olivier Bancoult, was four years old when he left the islands in 1968 and he’s deeply disgusted that he and his people have been cast into squalor.’
Olivier Bancoult before going into the court: ‘I was four years old when I was forced to leave the Chagos Islands. Over 2,500 of us were forced to leave.
‘My little sister had been hurt. My mother was told that she had to travel to Mauritius to get treatment for my sister and the whole family followed with a view to going back.
‘All our belongings were in Chagos.
‘My sister passed away two months later. We never knew we would not return home.’
Florine Jaffar said: ‘My parents are from Salomon Island. They have been away from their island for 40 years.
‘We are here because we want the right to return to our islands.
‘Before, we obtained the judgement. But the British government appealed again.
‘It’s the second time we’ve come here.
‘We will keep fighting for our rights. We are very angry about the way we have been treated and about the US base as well.’
Robert Bain, chairman of the UK Chagos Islands Support Association, said: ‘It’s a huge injustice that was done many years ago and is still being done today and has been perpetuated by every British government since the 1960s.
‘It’s shameful. You have these very very humble people who have taken on the might of the British government and have already won in the court twice, and yet are still here fighting to get back the islands that were stolen from them and I think it says a lot about the way the world works.’
Bernadette Dugasse said: ‘I come from Diego Garcia. I was two and a half when my family was forced to leave the island against their will.
‘Life is very hard for us. We have been given no housing, no allowance.
‘We have been dumped here with nothing and they keep asking us why did you leave the Seychelles and come here?
‘But we don’t belong to the Seychelles, we belong in Diego Garcia.’
Bashir Khan said: ‘I support the Chagos Islanders and I’m the UK Chagos Refugee Group representative.
‘Their experience has been one of the most degrading experiences of any group of people: to be deported, exiled and removed from your birthplace: all in a secretive, underhand and deceitful and duplicitous manner.’
Jeremy Corbyn MP said: ‘I’ve supported the Chagos Islanders for a very long time because of the monstrous act of betrayal of the islanders’ trust in the 1960s and 1970s, when they were removed from the islands.
‘The issue of Diego Garcia as part of the US global reach is disgraceful and ironic in the sense of the way the islanders have been treated.’
Hengride Permal, from the Chagos Islands Community Association, said: ‘We demonstrated outside social services in Crawley and they took us to court for “trespassing’’ and told us we have no right to be here.
‘They won a ruling it is private land even though it is government land.
‘It is government land, it is for the public and we are appealing.
‘That is why we will march this Saturday, February 10, through Crawley to demand our rights and compensation for 40 years of suffering.
‘We didn’t come here out of choice, we want to return to our homes on the Chagos Islands.
‘Families have been divided. Something needs to be done about this issue.
‘We want to fight, to let everyone know we have our rights to return to our islands.
‘We want the military base to be removed from Diego Garcia.’