over 150 Chagos Islanders, British trade unionists and youth held a mass picket outside the House of Lords on Monday.
The picket was called to lobby the hearing of the British government’s appeal against two High Court rulings that the Islanders have the right to return to two of the Chagos Islands.
It was organised by the Chagos Islands Community Association and supported by the PCS, GMB, FBU and POA trade unions, the WRP and Young Socialists.
The Islanders called for the defeat of the British government’s attempt to deny them their right to return, and to concede their return to the main island Diego Garcia, which was handed to the US in 1966 for use as a military base.
The island has been used since 2001 as a Guantanamo-style illegal prison under the CIA ‘rendition’ programme.
The Chagos Islands Community Association leaflet said: ‘Let us return back to our Islands!
In December 1966, the Harold Wilson Labour government gave away our homeland, the Chagos Islands, including the island of Diego Garcia, for free to the US government to use as a military base.
‘The whole Chagossian population was forcibly removed from their homes, their animals were killed and they were dumped, mainly in Mauritius. We have been treated like slaves.
‘The military base at Diego Garcia was used by the US to bomb Iraq and is also now a prison & torture centre for people rounded up all over the world by Bush’s ‘war on terror’.
‘It still remains “British territory”!
‘The British government has refused to carry out the decision of the High Court of Appeal which has three times upheld our right to return to part of the Chagos Islands.
‘The government is now appealing once again on June 30 to the House of Lords to challenge the decision.
‘Help us right this terrible wrong!
• Return us home to Diego Garcia & other islands
• Terminate the US base and close its illegal prison.’
‘We will return to our islands,’ chanted the protesters.
Anna Konate told News Line: ‘My mum comes from Diego Garcia and I was taken to Lebanon.
‘We are now living in Crawley after 40 years of exile.
‘We had to go to the Lebanon for work, then we came back to the Seychelles and then England.
‘We haven’t been settled, it’s horrible.
‘We have been moving because we are looking for a better place to live and settle.
‘In my heart I want to go back to my home, Diego Garcia and end this exile.
‘They treated our people badly.
‘They should close the military base and compensate the Chagos Islanders and help them settle back.
‘It’s been too long.’
Jessy Marcelin added: ‘We are fighting for the Chagos Islands.
‘They are looking to let us return to just two small islands.
‘But we want all our islands back, including the main island, Diego Garcia.
‘If we return to just the two islands, what will they do with the people from Diego Garcia?
‘We want the Americans and their military base off the islands so we can live in peace in our homeland.
‘And we want compensation for the 40 years of suffering in exile.
‘We don’t want Mauritius to look after us, we want to be independent.’
Chair of the Chagos Islands Community Association Hengride Permal told News Line: ‘We demand our right to return to all the Chagos Islands, including the main island, Diego Garcia.
‘We want them to close the military base so that we can return to our homelands.
‘We also want compensation for the 40 years of pain and suffering that the Chagossian people have endured while in exile in Mauritius and the Seychelles Islands.
‘This is the third time the British government has gone to court for a case that we won twice already.’
Islander Cristianne Medor added: ‘We are protesting against the government.
‘We want to return to the Chagos Islands, our homeland, after 40 years of suffering.
‘We want to return to all the islands, including Diego Garcia.
‘We won the right to return in the British courts, but the government is challenging the courts and has gone to the House of Lords.
‘Our case is being heard there today and we look forward to victory and the defeat of the government’s attempt to deny us our rights.’
Maria Remal said: ‘Today is important.
‘We want to go back to our homeland.
‘We want to return to all the islands, including Diego Garcia and close the US base.’
PCS deputy general secretary Hugh Lanning told News Line: ‘Our conference passed a motion of support for the Chagos Islanders and we’ve been supporting the campaign ever since.
‘This is a big week. We’d like to see the British government do the honourable thing and give the islands back their right to return.
‘The Chagossians have won that right in the British courts and the government should accept what the courts say, not keep fighting it.
‘We ought to be discussing with the people how we can support and make real their return and rebuilding new lives.
‘The aim must be for all of the islands to be returned.
‘But the process should be started and not be delayed by US security concerns,’
Paul Maloney, GMB southern region senior officer, added: ‘We want to get the grass roots membership in Crawley and across the southern region involved.
‘It’s disgraceful the way the Chagos Islanders have been treated, especially after the Appeal Court decision.
‘The government should have accepted that decision and booted the Americans off Diego Garcia and made a move for peace in the world as well as restoring the Islanders to their homes.
‘And the Islanders have to be properly compensated for the treatment they have endured.’
Kathy Bedchen said: ‘I’m here because my mother also comes from Mauritius after being exiled from Diego Garcia.
‘I’m here to support them getting their islands back – all of them, including Diego Garcia.
‘I want Diego Garcia because my mother came from there.
I want the US base closed down.’
The Chagos Islanders are now preparing for their meeting at the TUC Congress.