1,500 people were made to leave the Chagos Islands, in the Indian Ocean. The UK, which owned the land, had leased the largest island, Diego Garcia, to the US to build a huge military base.
In the 1970s, the UK gave the Mauritian government £4.65m to distribute to the Chagossians in compensation, but no money was paid to people sent to the Seychelles. Travel brochures depict the Seychelles as an island paradise, an oasis of golden beaches and crystal clear waters. But for Chagossians, it has been a place of discrimination, poverty and homelessness. Chagossians in the Seychelles were taunted by the locals, told to go back to where they came from. They were called anara, which meant uncivilised, dirty and unvaccinated.
In 2016, the British government unveiled a £40m support package for community projects for Chagossians living in the UK, Mauritius and Seychelles, to be paid over a decade. So far less than 2% of this fund has been distributed.
Having failed to achieve justice from the UK, some islanders have now taken legal action in the US. They are filing a new petition through the US Foreign Claims Act, which awards compensation for noncombatants’ injury, death or property damage by US military personnel overseas.
“Based on the 2019 UN ruling there is an illegal occupation of the Chagos Islands,” says Jonathan Levy, a US-based lawyer representing the Chagossians in the petition. “We’re saying to the government: you owe damages to the Chagossian people for operating a military base on their property.”
In October, the US Department of the Air Force rebuffed a first attempt, stating: “It has been determined that payment of the claims is not in the interests of the US government.” However, the legal team is planning a new legal action after president-elect Joe Biden takes office in January.
“The incoming Biden administration seeks to change US foreign policy, and the Chagos archipelago is a good place to begin by recognising the claims of the Chagossians to their property and land and by paying a small restitution, given the immense value the rent-free use of Diego Garcia has provided the United States for the past five decades,” says Levy.