Chagossian people and access to British Citizenship: briefing

Summary - What is the background and the situation now?

In the 1960s and 1970s, the people of the Chagos Islands were removed from their native homeland under UK government orders and abandoned on the docks of Mauritius and Seychelles with little or no support.

 

As a direct result, subsequent generations born in exile are forced to pay extremely high immigration costs to access UK citizenship, and some have even been threatened with deportation from the UK.

 

This is because UK citizenship only passes down one generation. So the grandchildren of the generation forced from the Chagos Islands often have no entitlement to British citizenship.

 

Chagossians families have often been split across Mauritius, Seychelles and the UK. Reuniting is difficult because of minimum income and language requirements placed on spouses wishing to come to the UK.

 

The financial, administrative and emotional cost of immigration-related costs is a huge burden to the Chagossian community, driving high levels of debt and mental health problems. 

 

It remains illegal for Chagossians to live on their homeland. A 2016 government decision refused to back a viable resettlement programme supported by the Chagossian community. When announcing this decision Ministers pledged instead to “help Chagossians where they live now.”

What opportunities does the Nationality and Borders Bill present?

An amendment being proposed by Consevrative MP Henry Smith to the Nationality and Borders Bill would rectify this, by giving the right to UK citizenship to anyone demonstrably descended from an individual born on the Chagos Islands.

 

This amendments would give Chagossians the same low-cost and simplified path to citizenship they would have enjoyed if the deportation had not happened. 

These amendments were discussed at the Borders and Nationality Bill Committee Stage on Thursday 4 November, where they were supported by Labour’s Bambos Charalambous MP and the SNP’s Stuart McDonald MP.

At the end of Committee Stage discussion, Minister Tom Pursglove indicated he was "sympathetic" to the aims of the amendment but had concerns around some details. He said the government would "carefully" consider the issue and revisit at Report Stage of the Bill.

The issue is now expected to be discussed during Report Stage on 7 or 8 December.

Even if not all elements of the amendment are passed, there may be further opportunties to change Home Office regulations that would make it easier for Chagossians and their families to access British citizenship.

 

What MPs can do to support this change now

Support Henry Smith amendment at Report Stage of Nationality and Borders Bill

Meet with Chagossians to discuss these issues.

 

Ask questions in Parliament.

 

Further information

For a full legal briefing on the proposed amendment, please see the Fragomen briefing on this issue. You can arrange a call with Fragomen lawyer Alexander Finch, who has supported on drafting this amendment, by emailing alexander.finch@fragomen.com 

For further background on the impact of the proposed changes, please see the briefing from Chagossian community platform Chagossian Voices. You can contact Chagossian Voices by emailing chagossianvoices@gmail.com

You can also visit the BIOT Citizen Campaign website. This is run by a group of Chagossians specifically campaigning on this issue.

You can also contact our support group for more information. Pleas email  contact@chagossupport.org.uk or call 07474385386

For more information on the proposed amendment and Parliamentary process: Please contact the office of Henry Smith MP. You can read Mr Smith’s amendment on Parliament’s website.