TWO hundred Chagos Islanders and their supporters descended on the Court of Appeal in London yesterday, demanding that the court upholds their right to return to their islands.
The islanders were forced to leave 40 years ago when the British government leased their islands to the US government, which then built a giant military base on Diego Garcia – from where bomb attacks against Iraq and Afghanistan have been launched.
The islanders also staged a demonstration yesterday opposite Downing Street, where they were joined by MP Jeremy Corbyn, as they expressed their anger at the British government’s decision to appeal against a court ruling last year upholding their right to return home.
Outside the court, Ann Stewart told News Line: ‘I have travelled from Scotland because I am ashamed of being British with this matter still outstanding.’
Sylvia Boyes, from the UK Chagos Support Association, said: ‘They have the right – which a High Court judge has ruled – to return, and it’s to the shame of our government that they are actually appealing against this judgement today.’
Jean-Paul Selmour, from the Chagos Islands, said: ‘I was born in 1966. Between 1968 and 1974 we were removed from our islands.
‘The British government had no right to hand them over to America, because they’re our islands, our motherland.’
Sabrina Jean said: ‘My parents were born on the Chagos Islands and I grew up in Mauritius.
‘My parents were treated like animals. They were put on the boat and stored in quarters built for animals on a three to four day journey to Mauritius.
‘It was an act of humiliation.’
Olivier Bancoult, representing the islanders in court, arrived with his lawyer Richard Gifford.
Gifford told News Line: ‘This is the government’s attempt to overcome 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’’ and it was likened to the Highland Clearances.’
Olivier Bancoult said: ‘I was four years old when I was forced to leave – over 2,500 of us were forced to leave.
‘I have only been able to visit my island twice since then, the first time was in 2000, with only three people.’
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.’
After leaving the High Court, the islanders went to Downing Street, where they kept up chants of: ‘Give us back our islands!’
Hengride Permal, from the Chagos Island Community Association, told reporters: ‘We demonstrated outside the social services offices in Crawley and they took us to court for “trespassing’’ and told us we have no rights to be there.
‘We are appealing against this.
‘That is why we will march through Crawley this Saturday, February 10, to demand our rights and compensation for 40 years of suffering.’