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Chagos Islanders continue legal battle for their homeland in the UK High Court

A group of people, who were born on the Chagos Islands, will have their legal battle against the UK Government heard in the High Court from 10th to 15th December 2018.

Posted on 10 December 2018

The UK government was responsible for the forced eviction of all inhabitants of the Chagos Islands (around 2,000 people) between 1968 and 1971. Some of those inhabitants were relocated to Mauritius, others to the Seychelles.  The largest island – Diego Garcia – was subsequently leased to the United States, who now operates a military base from there.
In April 1971 an order was made to prohibit anyone from entering or remaining on the islands without a permit. The order was quashed in a legal case in 2000 but the government subsequently introduced the British Indian Ocean Territory (Constitution) Order 2004 and the British Indian Ocean Territory (Immigration) Order 2004 which imposed the same prohibitions on Chagos Islanders returning to their homeland.
The government carried out a review of their policy on resettlement of the Chagos Islands between 2012 – 2016. As part of that review, KPMG was commissioned to investigate the feasibility of resettlement and concluded, contrary to earlier assumptions, that resettlement was feasible. A consultation with Chagossians found that 98% of them wanted to move home to the islands. Despite this, on 16 November 2016 the UK Government announced that it would not support the resettlement of Chagossians and would instead allocate £40m towards a 10-year support package to improve the lives of Chagossians in their current communities.  The current legislation prohibiting the Chagossians from enjoying any right of abode in the BIOT remains in effect.
The claimants in this case, Solange Hoareau and Louis Olivier Bancoult, argue that the November 2016 decision was unlawful and are asking for a judicial review of the decision in the hope that it will be quashed. Leigh Day represents Solange Hoareau. She was born and brought up on Diego Garcia, as were her mother and grandparents. Diego Garcia is her home but like all of the Chagossian people, she was forcibly removed from the islands. She was transported to the Seychelles, where she now lives.
The Chagossians were not given any replacement houses on Mauritius or the Seychelles and many have since lived in abject poverty, with a deep sadness and longing for their homeland. Although the UK government has repeatedly stated that the exile of the Chagossians was wrong the government has only ever paid compensation to the Mauritian Chagossians. No compensation was ever paid to the Chagossians who were exiled to the Seychelles.
Ms Horeau argues the decision of November 2016 is unlawful on a number of grounds, including (i) the Secretary of State erroneously concluded that a decision not to fund resettlement was determinative of the separate question of whether to lift the constitutional bar on the right of Chagossians to return to their homeland; (ii) the decision was irrational and/or amounted to a disproportionate interference with the fundamental rights of the Chagossians; (iii) the government acted irrationally and unfairly by failing to undertake any assessment of the needs to which the £40m Support Package was directed and breached a legitimate expectation of consultation in relation to the scope and value of the Support Package; and (iv) in taking the decision, the government failed to comply with its Public Sector Equality Duties.
Ms Hoareau said:

“For years, we have fought tirelessly to be able to return home to our Islands. We, and generations before us, led peaceful and happy lives there. The actions of the UK government, expelling us from our homes was shameful. They have ruined the lives of thousands of people for the sake of a military advantage. We hope the court will agree that this injustice must finally be brought to an end and order the government to let us go home.”
Rosa Curling, solicitor at Leigh Day, said:

“Our clients believe the latest decision taken by the government about the Chagossians is unlawful. It is time for our government to end the ongoing injustice faced by the people of the Chagos Islands. Our client’s right to abode must be recognised and Mrs Hoareau, and her fellow Chagossians, must be allowed to return home.”