the Disillusioned kid: Good News For The Chagossians. For Once.
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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Good News For The Chagossians. For Once.

This article, from London's Evening Standard, appeared in my inbox via the Chagos Discussion list (formerly Student Friends of Chagos):
Members of families forced by the British to leave their Indian Ocean "paradise" in the Chagos Islands have won permission to bring a High Court challenge for the right to housing and social benefits, including jobseeker's allowance, in the UK.

They were moved in 1971 so that Diego Garcia, one of the islands in the Chagos archipelago, could be handed over to the US for a strategic airbase.

Since then the British action has been widely condemned by lawyers, journalists and politicians as "underhand" and "shabby" and one of the most shameful episodes in the country's recent history.

Most of the islanders went to Mauritius, but over the years families found it hard to settle and became impoverished, with many committing suicide.

In recent months many have headed for the UK, via Gatwick, in search of a better life.

They are UK passport holders entitled to reside in Britain.

But they have been refused access to the benefits system on the basis that they are not "habitually resident" in the UK.

Lawyers acting for 40 Chagossians argued they were entitled to be treated "like the Irish".

Citizens of the Republic of Ireland are entitled to benefits in the UK because of the historical ties between the two nations, said their counsel Simon Cox.

Lawyers for the Government argued that the Chagossians had already been compensated for the loss of their islands, and they were not entitled to special treatment when it came to entitlement to benefits. But Mr Justice Newman ruled the Chagossians were entitled to make a full application for judicial review.
This is a positive development, although it should be stressed that the Chagossians have only won the right to bring a judicial review, they still have to succeed in such a review. This may prove difficult and will certainly be very costly.

The comparison with Ireland is interesting and perhaps merits further comment. Recall that the Chagossians not only have "historical ties" with the British, they are actually British citizens with British passports. Indeed, the only reason the British government was able to force them from their homes is because the UK still asserts that the Chagos Archipelago (which they call the British Indian Ocean Territory or BIOT) is British territory. It is also worth noting that where the Irish are white and all speak English, the Chagossians are black and most can only speak French Creole. As such, the conclusion that old-fashioned racism is a major factor underlying the different treatment of the two groups is difficult to avoid.

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