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Asylum seekers can leave guarded encampment on Diego Garcia

A group of asylum seekers who have been stranded on Diego Garcia since October 2021 have today been granted bail allowing them to leave the fenced and guarded encampment in which they have held by the BIOT Commissioner since their arrival two and a half years ago.

Posted on 22 April 2024

The claimants, who include a seven-year-old child, applied for bail to be allowed out of the fenced camp during day light hours, pending a hearing in July, to be held in Diego Garcia, to decide whether they are unlawfully detained by the Commissioner.

The claimants are seeking international protection and say they cannot return to Sri Lanka. The Commissioner has repeatedly insisted he is negotiating arrangements for the transfer of individuals stranded on the island to a safe third country, but so far no movement appears to be have made in those negotiations.

The grant of bail by Justice Margaret Obi was made following a hearing on 15 April at which the court considered evidence of the facilities available on the island, such as the BritClub a popular bar run by the Royal Navy which is open to all on the island including civilians. The Court also heard evidence of recent civilian visitors to the secretive island which hosts a US military facility, including cheerleaders, celebrity chefs and musicians. 

The court has determined that the claimants should be allowed day release from the camp to allow them to walk along a footpath that leads from the guarded camp northwards to the area of the BritClub, and to access beaches along the way. For many held in the camp, this will be their first time outside the area of the camp in 2.5 years. Giving judgment, Justice Obi noted that the seven-year-old  child most likely has no memory of life outside the camp and that the impact of being held in the camp has had severe detrimental impact on the individuals.

The substantive hearing of the unlawful detention claim will take place on Diego Garcia in the window of 5-21 July.

Leigh Day solicitor Tom Short, who represents many of the asylum seekers, said:

“Our clients have been held in a fenced encampment the size of a football field for two and a half years, living in rat infested tents with limited facilities and no freedom of movement. 

“They are being held until their claims for international protection are decided by the BIOT Commissioner and until arrangements have been made by the FCDO for them to be moved to a safe third country.

“With no end in sight for their time on Diego Garcia, we welcome the Court granting bail to our clients so that they can move around parts of the island, to experience their first taste of freedom in years.

“While the relief granted is modest, it will make an enormous difference to our clients’ lives while they wait for their claims of unlawful detention to be heard in July in Diego Garcia. In particular, we welcome the ruling for what it will mean to the children, many of whom now have no memory of life outside the fence.”

Tom Short
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Tom Short

Tom Short is a senior associate solicitor in the human rights department.

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