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Chagos Island descendants back fresh bid to secure citizenship rights

DESCENDANTS of the Chagos Islanders, who were expelled from their homeland by Britain over 50 years ago, are pinning their hopes on a fresh parliamentary bid to win the right to British citizenship. 

This country is home to about 3,000 Chagossian descendants and former islanders, who were expelled from the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) between 1968 and 1974 to make way for the construction of a US naval and military base on the island of Diego Garcia. 

Sent to Mauritius and the Seychelles, more than 1,000 miles away, where they faced discrimination and extreme poverty, many Chagossians have since fled to Britain in the hope of a better life. 

But due to an “anomaly” in nationality law, the grandchildren of Chagos Islanders born in exile are not automatically entitled to British citizenship, leaving families struggling to pay off crippling debts for visas or torn apart by deportations.

Second-generation Chagossian Josian Aristide, 51, moved to Britain in 2014, more than four decades after his parents were expelled from the island of Peros Banhos to Mauritius. 

While he and his two youngest children have British citizenship, his wife Sandra, a Mauritian national, and his oldest son Louis, 24, do not. 

This means that the family must fork out about £7,000 on visas every two-and-a-half years in order for the two to stay in the country. 

Working as a care assistant and being the family’s only bread-winner since his wife was forced to stop working by a back injury, Josian says that he struggles to cover these costs. 

“It’s a lot of money we’ve paid,” Sandra tells the Morning Star. “We cannot have a good life because we always have to save money for when we need to renew the visa to pay it. 

“And for the children also, they can’t have the same life as their friends because we are always saving money for the visa.”

Born in Mauritius in 1970, Josian received British citizenship through the 2002 Overseas Territories Act, which granted it to Chagossians born in exile between 1969 and 1983. 

However, this right does not extend to the grandchildren of islanders born in exile, because, under British law, citizenship is normally only passed on to the first generation born abroad. 

Many Chagossians say that this is unfair. “We are not equal like the British,” Josian says. “How can I be British and my children not British? What is this? We don’t know why we are being made to struggle.” 

Now they are urging the government to rectify the historic injustice against the exiled community by backing a new amendment that would give all Chagossian descendants the right to British citizenship.

Due to be introduced next month by Tory MP Henry Smith, who represents Crawley, where the majority of Chagossians in Britain live, at the report stage of the Nationality and Borders Bill, the amendment would also waive naturalisation fees, benefiting about 1,000 people. 

The community says that the amendment is the biggest opportunity that they have had to resolve the issue, after a private member’s Bill, also proposed by Mr Smith, was thrown out in 2018 due to a lack of support in the Commons. 

The Home Office says that non-British nationals resident in the country can apply for naturalisation if they meet the qualifying criteria and there are arrangements for minors to register as British citizens. 

“Those resident overseas would need to qualify under the requirements of the immigration rules if they wish to relocate to the UK,” a spokesperson added. 

However, many Chagossian families struggle to access citizenship throught the regular route, which can cost thousands of pounds in legal fees and administrative costs. 

Another family affected by Britain’s immigration policies is that of Juliet Appadoo and her daughter Marie (names have been changed to protect peoples' identities), who have had to prioritise paying for visas instead of paying off debts. 

Marie’s grandmother and grandfather were expelled from Diego Garcia to Mauritius and moved to Britain in 2002. 

Their son, Marie’s father, has British citizenship. Although Marie has lived in England since the age of 12, she has been unable to obtain citizenship and now lives in the country without papers after a visa application was rejected. 

She is not allowed to work or study and fears being sent back to Mauritius. “It will be harder for me if I go back to Mauritius because I’m already used to everything here and I basically grew up here,” she tells the Morning Star. 

After leaving school, Marie was unable to go to university, where she wanted to study to become a teacher. 

“They’re treating us unfairly because a lot of kids are getting deported and we have to pay a lot of money and people are forced to leave their families,” she says. 

It’s not clear how many Chagossian descendants have faced deportation, but it is thought that a growing number of families have been affected in recent years. 

Rosy Leveque, a Chagossian descendant who also campaigns for the rights of the community as an organiser with the BIOT Citizens platform, says that many people deported to Mauritius end up on the streets because their families sold everything to reach Britain. 

“Then those guys arrive back with no family, no support system, they find themselves on the streets [and] turn to drugs as a form of desperation,” she tells the Morning Star. 

“It’s honestly just such a sad story because the community has been treated so poorly for over 50 years. 

“And now they [have] tried to remake their lives in England since 2002 and they still can’t find peace, they still can’t find happiness. It’s like this curse, this never-ending circle that keeps going round and round from generation to generation from descendant to descendant. 

“The grandparents were removed from their homes and now their children are being treated the same way, the children are being deported.”

Ms Leveque also hopes that Mr Smith’s amendment will pass, which she says would enable Chagossians living in poor conditions in Mauritius and the Seychelles to finally be reunited with family members in Britain. 

“These families have been broken up and separated for many years,” Ms Leveque adds. “We see it as an opportunity for all this injustice and suffering to finally end.”

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