"We Chagossians are British citizens: How can the Government treat us like this." Chagossi
Today national UK newspaper The Guardian published an artilce by Mylene Augustin, a Chagossian exile living in Crawely. You can read the full article on the Guardian's website, or an in-depth summary is available below.
Mylene was born in exile a few short years after the Chagossian deportation, the daughter of two native-born Chagossians. She came to the UK just over a decade ago.
I should have been born on the Chagos Islands but I was born in exile in Mauritius. Not long before my birth my parents were forced to leave their homeland – my mother from Peros Banhos, my father from Diego Garcia – under orders of their own UK government. (They were, as I am, a British citizen.) They wanted to use our Indian Ocean home for a US military base and neither the US or the UK would allow us to stay there.
Life in Mauritius was hard – we lived in a slum and were looked down on by local people because we had nothing. Although I was a good student and passed the necessary exams, my parents didn’t have the money to send me to college so I worked in a packing factory for many years. Eventually I got some training to work in restaurants because I love to cook. By that time my husband and I had four children: the youngest was four and the oldest 12. When I was given the chance to move to England with a group of other Chagossians, I had to take the opportunity as it was the only chance for a better life for all of us – for our future.
When we arrived, we had nowhere to go so we stayed at Gatwick airport for a week sleeping on chairs or the floor and surviving on donations from other travellers. Then we were taken by a Chagossian to Crawley, where we stayed in temporary accommodation while we looked for work. But with no fixed address it was very hard to find a job. After six months, 12 of the group finally found some more permanent shared accommodation.
I got a cleaning job at Gatwick – where I had once slept! I worked as hard as I could, taking overtime shifts so that I could save money to bring my family over. Eventually, and after borrowing additional money from friends, I was able to pay for the visas and airfares for my husband and children. We stayed at first at friends’ houses until we could pay for a private rental of our own.
My husband got a few hours’ worth of work as a hospital cleaner, while I cleaned at the airport and friends helped look after the children. There were more years like this – working and saving – until I could bring my parents over because my father was not well. Then my husband got a full time cleaner’s job so I could stay with the children and take a food hygiene course to pursue my dream.
We had to apply and pay for visas and papers three times: first for the two-year visa, then for the indefinite visa, then for British citizenship. Such a lot of money and difficulty for us Chagossians who are forced exiles – not refugees or immigrants. And most of us are on the minimum wage.
My stepsister has not been able to get a British passport so she has not been able to join us here to this day, even when my father passed away. So many Chagossians in the UK have had their families divided by these rules, and for us family is everything.
Or should I say family and our islands, because for all of us here – whether younger or older generation – we will not give up our right to return to our Chagos home. My father’s dying wish was to die in his birthplace. It breaks my heart that he said to me: “Burn me and put my ashes in the sea so they will go back to Diego Garcia one day.”
These days I help with the groups we run for Chagossian women, children and the elderly. We support each other with literacy, filling out forms, helping families settle here. We organise events and get-togethers. It is important that our community stays strong and celebrates its culture: we have lost so much, but not that.
Once the UK government says “You can go home”, my family will go back to the Chagos Islands the very next day. We will fight until that happens and await with eagerness the supreme court ruling, which is expected this month. Our lives have seen such discrimination and hardship – first in Mauritius and now the UK.
How can you take away people’s homeland and then treat them like this? Why does the government make it so hard for us to live here when we are British citizens? They should at least help us until we get our right to return home to our islands. And we will.