‘RETURN US BACK TO OUR ISLAND’ – say Chagossians evicted by US and UK imperialism

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Chagos Islanders protest outside the Social Services building in Crawley
Chagos Islanders protest outside the Social Services building in Crawley

TODAY, a number of Chagos Islanders will appear at Horsham County Court to fight a Claim Form for Possession of Property from West Sussex County Council, which is attempting to end their protest outside the Social Services building in Crawley.

Since the beginning of August, nearly 50 islanders have taken turn to demonstrate day and night.

Representative of the recently-arrived islanders, Hengride Permal, from the Chagos Island Community Association, told News Line: ‘We are demonstrating because we want our rights: we are fighting to go back to our islands of Chagos and for compensation for forty years of exile and forty years of suffering.

‘The United Nations has recognised that the British government should compensate us for those 40 years in exile, spent mainly in the slums of Mauritius.’

The island of Diego Garcia, part of the Chagos Archipelago, was ‘cleansed’ of the indigenous population under the orders of the Harold Wilson Labour Government as part of a deal with the Nixon regime in 1966.

US imperialism gained a vital military base in the Indian Ocean and Wilson got $14 million reduction on Polaris missiles. The deal also saw The Seychelles and Mauritius gain independence from Britain.

The odious, but essential, task of ‘sanitising’ the island fell to the colonial administration which set about the job with arrogance and ruthlessness. Just to make sure the islanders knew it meant business, the slaughter of the Chagossians pets was ordered. They were rounded up and gassed in a furnace using exhaust fumes from US army vehicles.

Many islanders were treated in the most barbaric fashion when hijacked from their island from 1966 onwards. On one infamous journey, Chagossians endured the turbulent sea crossing below deck with a cargo of bird fertiliser, while horses from the island’s coconut plantation travelled first class on the upper deck.

Forty years of exile and poverty have not quelled the anger of Chagos Islanders; neither has it crushed their determination to fight for their right to demonstrate against a Blair government which is blocking their return to their homeland.

In this latest saga to silence the islanders, Hengride Permal said that she could not understand why the local authority wanted to move them from the present site, as their protest has been a peaceful one.

It even states in the Possession Order that the islanders ‘had been peacefully demonstrating. . . The persons demonstrating are Diego Garcian, protesting against the outcome of the compensation case relating to them being displaced from their homeland 30 years ago.’ (sic)

Hengride was angry with the way the county council had preceded with the possession order, which gave them less than a week to find legal representation. The council had sent their ‘agent’, Roy Nowosielski of Security and Investigation Bureau Ltd., to the demonstration site. Hengride alleges that ‘he said he was there to help, and said he would look into job seekers and housing for us’.

Instead, Mr Nowosielski returned to give them the possession order in which his witness statement reads: ‘That the persons unknown were causing a nuisance and disrupting the smooth running of the building.’

Far from being a ‘nuisance’, the islanders have won great support whilst camped outside the building.

Many passers-by have offered support and given donations of food. One farmer from Redhill has not only dropped off food regularly, but has even come in a minibus and taken some demonstrators back to his farm for a hot meal and a shower.

A defiant Hengride explained; ‘It is not right to take us to court. We are also demonstrating here outside the Social Services building because lots of Chagossian people do not have a place to stay.

‘We have problems renting from private landlords because they only give contracts for six months; after that the landlords want their rooms back, so Chagossian people have to go again and find deposits and advance money. But we do not make that much money. Most Chagossians, if they are lucky to have a job here, are doing cleaning work which is minimum payment or minimum salary.’

Hengride added: ‘Many of our people cannot speak English, only Creole French; and many are illiterate. This makes them even more vulnerable to unscrupulous landlords who exploit their situation.

‘So it is very difficult for us to be here. We are poor and, except being given British passports, we have not got any push, any real help from the government since we came to Britain.’

Ricaud Herbu, said angrily: ‘We have British passports; I came from Mauritius to England for a better life. But when I get here I am treated like dirt. In England I am homeless; why should I be treated this way?

‘I did not want to leave my island. When the US army came to my island, my family tried to run but we were caught and put on a boat. We didn’t know our destination.

‘If the British government leases our island for another 50 years to America what will happen to our roots in that time? We will lose them forever!

‘What the British and US army has done to our Chagossian identity is a crime; they burnt all our civil papers and birth certificates. But the British government know our people were born in BIOT (British Indian Ocean Territory). They need to respect us. Respect human rights; all people are waiting for your answer.’

In May this year, The High Court ruled once again in favour of the islanders to return home, but this will undoubtedly be challenged eventually by a Labour government that toes the Bush line. The lease is due to expire in 2016.

The importance of the US military base on Diego Garcia is unquestionable. This ‘jewel in the Pentagon crown’ is at the very centre of Bush’s ‘war on terror’ and has been given the ignominious name ‘footprint freedom’ or ‘camp justice’. It was only from this US Navy base that B-52s were flown to bomb Iraq in 1990 and 2003. Today, it is widely believed that it is also a stop off for ‘rendition flights’, where ‘terrorist suspects’ are tortured.

The islanders’ inspirational struggle powerfully exposes the historic bare bones of reformism; no matter the form it takes – Old Labour or New Labour – its essential being is to serve the interests of the imperialist ruling class.

The Wilson government lied about Chagossians and cut a deal with the Nixon administration.

The determination of the Chagos islanders is summed up by Ricaud: ‘I say to the British government: you stole my island for the security of the world – now give Chagos people their security!’

The Banner reads: ‘With a British passport we are still treated like animals: no house, begging for benefits to get food for family; are divided with little children. United Nations of Human Rights ask the government to give Chagossian people a compensation for 40 years in exile and also return us back to our island. We are waiting for the exact date of our compensation by protesting day and night. We will not give up until we talk to Blair face to face. Respect all people. (We) come from BIOT (British Indian Ocean Territory).’