26 February 2014

Chagos Islanders ‘Will Not Give Up’ Fight to Return Home

The Chagossians pictured here when they visited the archipelago in 2006. Many are still fighting to return to the islands they were evicted from almost 40 years ago. Courtesy: Chagos Refugees Group (CRG).

PORT LOUIS (IPS) - “The Marine Protected Area (MPA) created around the Chagos archipelago is a new obstacle that the British government has placed in our path to prevent us from going back to our homeland,” claims Olivier Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG).

For the past 40 years, the Chagossians have been fighting to return to their home in Chagos archipelago, a set of 55 islets situated 1,200 km north of the Indian Ocean Island of Mauritius.

They lived there for five generations until the early 1970s when the archipelago was excised from Mauritius by the United Kingdom. The Chagossians were evicted and the archipelago now forms part of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).

“We’ll not give up,” Bancoult tells IPS as he prepares for a new legal battle against the British government, which will be heard by the High Court of Justice in London on Mar. 30. However, the Chagossians feel that the 2010 creation of the MPA, which does not allow for human settlement on the Chagos archipelago or travel there unless one is in possession of a permit from the U.K. government, prevents their resettlement.

Bancoult was four when he and his mother, Rita, came to Mauritius. In 1983 he created the CRG to defend the rights of his community and over the years the organisation has staged numerous public demonstrations and hunger strikes.

The MPA covers almost 545,000 square kilometres and aims to protect the natural resources of the Chagos archipelago by implementing strict controls over fishing, habitation, damage to the environment and the killing, harming and collecting of animals.

The U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) designated the archipelago as an area that needs to be preserved “on the basis that the archipelago is one of the most precious, unpolluted, tropical ocean environments left on earth.”