Fernand Mandarin, long-time Chagossian community leader, dies

Fernand Mandarin, the late leader of Comité social chagossien

On 13 October 2016 the Chagossian movement lost one of its leading figures, with the death of Fernand Mandarin, long-time leader of the Chagossian Social Committee (Comité social chagossien).

Born in 1943 on Peros Banhos, an archipelago some 100 miles north of Diego Garcia, Mr Mandarin was forced to leave his homeland in 1966. Within the next seven years, all Chagossians would be forced to leave. Mr Mandarin though never stopped fighting gallantly for his exiled community right up until the end of his life. In spite of decades of struggle, he never gave up the dream of winning Chagossian right of return, and securing proper support for the exiled Chagossian community.

Like many other Chagossians forced into exile without adequate compensation, Fernand Mandarin and his family faced significant poverty, difficulty and discrimination when he arrived in Mauritius. As well as becoming a central community leader, Mr Mandarin worked to support his family over the years in a variety of roles, including as a fisherman, a mason and a docker.

He joined the Chagossian protests in Mauritius in the early 1980s, notable for the hunger strikes of leaders like Lisette Talate and Charlesia Alexis. Later he himself became a leading figure in the Chagossian struggle for justice, vocally fighting for adequate compensation, the right to return and recognition of the Chagossian people.

In 1995 he founded the Chagossian Social Committee (Comité social chagossien), a new body committed to advocating for return and helping the community thrive in exile.

Fenand Mandarin, addressing a crowd in the 1990s

He also spoke at the UN in 1996, convincing the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations to accept Chagossians were indeed the indigenous population of the Chagos Islands. This was an historic victory, as for many decades the UK government had described Chagossians as “migrant workers,” deliberately ignoring the many families who had lived on the islands for many generations.

Throughout this life he continued to work to win the right to return for all Chagossians, help Chagossians living in exile and raise international support for the Chagossian cause. Just last year he released a book, Retour Aux Chagos (Back to Chagos), an historical and personal account of life on the islands and the experience of exile.

Other Chagossians leaders have lined up to pay tribute to Fernand Mandarin, with Chagos Refugee Leader Oliver Bancoult expressing his “deep regret” that the Chagossian people had lost “one of our great defenders.” The Chagos Islands Welfare Group also paid tribute on their Facebook page, lamenting that “we've lost a great person and a leader of Chagossians.”

Indeed the wide sense of loss amongst Chagossians of all groups, and across Mauritius, the UK, the Seychelles and elsewhere, shows the huge respect Mr Mandarin commanded throughout the community.

Fernand Mandarin's funeral took place on 14 October, attended by a number of family and friends.

Everyone at UK Chagos Support Association sends their deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Fernand Mandarin at this difficult time. We must endeavour to continue to the work Mr Mandarin gave so much of his life to: winning justice for the Chagossian people.

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