Chagos Islanders ‘Cannot Return’

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FORMER residents of the Chagos Islands who were forcibly removed from their homeland more than 40 years ago have lost their legal challenge to return.

Families were forced off the Indian Ocean islands in the 1960s and 1970s to make way for a US Air Force base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the group of islands. An Immigration Order preventing anyone from going back was issued in 1971.

The Supreme Court, the UK’s highest court, upheld a 2008 House of Lords ruling that the exiles could not return. Olivier Bancoult, the Chagossian leader who has been fighting in the courts on behalf of the islanders, had argued that decision should be set aside.

In the latest challenge, justices were told it relied heavily on a 2002 feasibility study into resettlement, which concluded that the costs of long-term habitation of the outer islands would be prohibitive and life there precarious. Information about the feasibility study was not disclosed before the decision was made, the islanders said.

But the five justices dismissed the islanders’ appeal by a majority of three to two, the same numerical split as the Law Lords in 2008. Many Chagossians live in Crawley, West Sussex, where hundreds settled when they were forcibly removed, as the town is next to Gatwick Airport.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been a long-standing supporter of their campaign to go back. At PM questions yesterday, Cameron was asked by Crawley Tory MP Henry Smith to allow the Chagossians, ‘these British citizens, to return’.

Cameron said: ‘The National Security Council has been considering this issue. We’ve looked at the alternative options, we’ve looked at the costs and benefits of the various things that we could do and we’ll be making an announcement in the coming months.’