Sunday, July 28, 2019

Britain Persecuting Chagos Islanders

The UK’s hostile environment show a strategy which persecutes passport-holding British citizens of colour. Having been forcibly evicted from their own home, Chagos Islanders are being systematically targeted in an attempt to get them to leave the UK. The community of Chagossians in Crawley, West Sussex, have faced a lengthy campaign putting pressure on them to leave the country, which has been corroborated by internal government emails.

The local council offered to pay for flights to the Indian Ocean rather than provide them with housing assistance in the UK, which is potentially unlawful. Others allege that council officials aggressively told British passport holders seeking housing assistance that they should return to the Seychelles or Mauritius. One British Chagossian described the approach of Crawley borough council as “racist” and said many had been affected. The council appears to have routinely categorised British Chagossians as “intentionally homeless”, increasing the pressure for many to leave the country. This, the council argues, is because they moved to the UK of their own accord and should return to the Seychelles and Mauritius.

Satbir Singh, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: “This is another shameful reminder that the hostile environment is regularly weaponised against people of colour, and must be scrapped to ensure all Chagossians have a right to stay and a scandal like this is never repeated.”

Clare Collier, advocacy director for the human rights group Liberty, said: “The apparent targeting of British Chagossians is deeply worrying, potentially discriminatory, and symptomatic of the mission creep of the government’s hostile environment.”

Marie”, 40, who moved to Crawley from the Seychelles eight years ago with her infant son. When she approached the council for help with social housing she said she was told they would only pay for plane tickets to return to the Seychelles. “When the housing officer spoke to me he was angry. He said he didn’t like the Chagossians coming to the UK and asking for houses. He asked me why I came. I was asked if I wanted a plane ticket to go back. I said no, I have nowhere to go.” 

Chagossians living in the Seychelles and Mauritius say they are subject to xenophobia and denied education and employment opportunities.

Jonathan D’Offay, 50, a British passport holder who was just four years old when he was evicted from his home on the Chagos Islands by the British military. His mother and siblings were displaced to Mauritius while he was sent to the Seychelles with his father, who later died. Last year he moved to the UK with his wife, Lindy, and nine-year-old daughter to make a fresh start. He settled in Crawley and after finding a job applied for housing assistance from the council because private rentals, with hefty deposits, were not affordable on his salary.
She [the housing officer] was shouting ‘why don’t you go back to Seychelles?’” said D’Offay. “She said you’re a British passport holder, not a British citizen. I said that in the passport it says I’m a British citizen. They just wanted to get rid of us.”
He said he felt so ashamed that he considered leaving the UK. Now the family lives in a caravan that gets extremely cold during the winter.

The fact that they are prohibited by the UK from returning to their homeland is not acknowledged during the housing application process, several Chagossians have said.

A British Chagossian in her 40s who gave her name as Maita, moved to the UK five years ago with her two children and elderly mother. When she asked the council for assistance with housing, she felt pressured to leave the UK. “He [the housing officer] said, ‘why did you come here?’ I told him the British government stole my mum’s country,” she said. “He said, ‘why did you make yourself intentionally homeless? Why don’t you go back?’ A lot of Chagossians got this from people from the council. A lot.”

Bernadette Dugasse, 62, who came to the UK from the Seychelles 10 years ago and has repeatedly applied for council housing, said: “Some [housing officers] are aggressive. They asked why I can’t go back. Every time I mentioned we came from Diego Garcia, she said: ‘Excuse me, do you think because you were born on Diego Garcia you were born with a golden spoon in your hand?’”

Britain took control of the Chagos archipelago in 1814 and in 1965 separated the territory from Mauritius, which was a British colony until 1968. The UK then forcibly evicted Chagossians to Mauritius and the Seychelles to make way for a US military base. The UK has since apologised for the way the evictions were conducted. In February the International Court of Justice ruled that the UK’s sovereignty over the land should end “as rapidly as possible”. The United Nations recently voted for Britain to give up the islands.

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