WE WILL RETURN TO DIEGO GARCIA IT’S OUR RIGHT! – Chagos islanders picket Downing Street

Chagos islanders and their supporters kept up lively chants all afternoon on Saturday, insisting on their right to return to their homeland
Chagos islanders and their supporters kept up lively chants all afternoon on Saturday, insisting on their right to return to their homeland

‘We will return to Diego Garcia – it’s our right!’ – Chagos Islanders shouted outside Downing Street on Saturday.

They put up the banner of the Chagos Islands Community Association and their flag and also held up many placards, which said: ‘All People Chagossian lost their identity – Diego Garcia, Peros Banos, Salomon’, ‘Stop dividing our families – children are being separated from their families, spouse from their partner, reunite our family’, ‘Give our people their island (Diego Garcia)’, ‘Give us our 40 years compensation for pain and suffering’.

Other placards said: ‘Deported: all Chagossian people in 1965, come from BIOT (British Indian Ocean Territory)’, ‘Chagossian people demand respect and jobs, security’, ‘We come from British Indian Ocean Territory – British government respect us’, ‘Give us a permanent home or send us back to our island’, ‘The British government stole our rent from US army’, and, ‘Stop Brown government’s disgraceful appeal to House of Lords’.

They continued shouting slogans: ‘Diego Garcia – it’s ours!’ ‘Viva Diego Garcia!’ and ‘Remove the base from Diego Garcia – US imperialism out!’

‘We have no money and nowhere to live,’ Mrs Miclement told News Line.

She said that, although she was born on Diego Garcia and raised three children there, she was forced from the island in 1965 and has been in exile for almost 43 years.

Regina Mandarin, also from Diego Garcia, said she had been forced to leave the island in 1968.

‘The government have taken our rights, our homeland,’ she said.

Ricaud Herbu said: ‘For 43 years in exile, the Chagossians have been suffering.

‘My parents came from Diego Garcia. I grew up in very poor conditions in Mauritius; it is very hard there.

‘I have come to England, but there are no jobs and housing is very expensive.

‘I believe we need to return to our homeland.

‘The government has divided families.

‘My family’s property has been stolen by the government and we have never had any compensation.

‘They have just given some money to the government of Mauritius, but these people have never received this money.

‘The government has no respect for us, they are renting our homeland to America and we are getting nothing.’

Pamela Konate said: ‘I’m here to defend my mum’s island where she got exiled from.

‘We are demonstrating to ask to return back to our island that they took from us. They treat us unfairly.

‘I think it’s not right, because Britain is renting our island to America.

‘All we demand is to get our island back.

‘The base should be closed and we should be allowed to go back home, which is Diego Garcia.’

Yolande Lindor said she was exiled to Mauritius from Diego Garcia.

‘We want to return to Diego Garcia. We are angry with the government and we want our rights,’ she added.

‘I feel very sad,’ said Edouard Roch, forced off Diego Garcia in 1967.

‘I want a house and a pension and the right of my family to live with me, and compensation.

‘And we want the American military base closed and to go back to our islands.’

Hengride Permal, chair of the Chagos Islands Community Association, told News Line: ‘What we are demanding is that Gordon Brown withdraws the appeal that they are making in the House of Lords.

‘And the compensation they say they have given us – we have not received the kind of money they are talking about.

‘We want the British government to investigate to find out where all the money they are talking about went.

‘And we want the military base to be removed from Diego Garcia and we want our islands back, all the Chagossian islands.

‘And we want Gordon Brown to have a meeting with us so that we can talk about the problems we are facing.’

She added: ‘Lots of Chagossians in the UK, like in Crawley, are facing a lot of problems, living in poverty and experiencing housing problems, facing private landlords.

‘About five families are living in one home, there is not enough space for children to move around and to sleep!

‘A family of four to five people are living in one single bedroom, and this is after they have forced us out of our homes on the Chagos Islands.

‘We want the government to repair the wrong that was done to us and give us our compensation for 40 years of pain and suffering while in exile in Mauritius and the Seychelles islands.

‘Lots of native people are dying and I hope that this new government, Gordon Brown, will acknowledge these people, because up to now all of them close their eyes.’

She reiterated that the Chagossians ‘should be compensated for their pain and suffering’.

She said: ‘We thank all the supporters from different groups who are here supporting us today, during this important day, and there is a petition and letter that we are taking to Downing Street today and hopefully Gordon Brown will acknowledge our problems.’

The letter to Prime Minister Brown said: ‘Last week your government lodged its appeal to the House of Lords against the decision of the Court of Appeal held on 23rd May 2007 that upheld our right to return to part of the Chagos Islands.

‘This is the third time the government has taken action against our right to return.

‘As you know the judiciary, many MPs from all parties, the vast majority of the media, and many trade unions are on record as stating that our eviction from Diego Garcia and the Chagos islands was one of the most disgraceful actions ever carried out by a modern British government.

‘You are almost alone in putting the interests of the US government and its desire that nobody should be within hundreds of miles of its massive base in Diego Garcia above us, your British citizens, who have been treated very badly.

‘You are a new Prime Minister. We are demanding that you honour the pledge of Robin Cook made when he was foreign secretary that the government would not appeal against the legal decision that we have a right to return. Blair reneged on that pledge. We are urging you to withdraw the appeal to the House of Lords so that justice can be done.

‘We are requesting an urgent meeting with you to discuss this matter, and to begin making the necessary arrangements for our return after over forty years of exile, the restoration of our lands, and that we be properly compensated as we have received no compensation to date.

‘Our older generation is beginning to despair that they will ever see our homeland again.

‘We urge you to act with humanity, withdraw this appeal to the House of Lords and allow us to return to our islands and put right the wrong that has been done to us.

‘We look forward to hearing from you.’

Robert Bain, from the UK Chagos Support Association, said: ‘I think it’s a disgrace that the government has appealed again.

‘It’s yet another delay after three unanimous court decisions in favour of the islanders, saying that they should be allowed home.’

Iain Orr said: ‘To throw people out of their own country is a disgrace and it’s colonialist. They weren’t even regarded as third class citizens, they were regarded as disposable.

‘There were people told they were going on a shopping trip to Mauritius and there was no boat back. It’s just appalling treatment.’

He added: ‘I used to work in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

‘I spent my career there and I’ve been aware of this issue for a long time and I have always felt that if you preach human rights overseas you have to be able to practise it at home and what the government has done to the Chagossians is such a glaring injustice.’

Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn said: ‘One of the great injustices of the 20th century was the removal of the civilian population from the Chagos Islands and it’s disgusting that the government should be appealing what was a very fair judgement in the High Court.’

Steve Wong, a solicitor from Merseyside, said: ‘I heard about this issue and I read about it yesterday and I felt it was so important that I had to come down and voice my support for the Chagossians.

‘These people are without a homeland.

‘It’s effectively a form of ethnic cleansing and it’s a throwback to the days of colonialism.’