Chagossian community celebrates Chagos Day

Traditional Chagossian dancing from a previous cultural event in Crawley earlier this year

This week the Chagossian community will celebrating Chagos Day, the exiled community's national day. The day will be an opportunity for the whole community to come together to celebrate their shared culture and heritage, involving those deported from the islands and those born in exile. With a government decision on return looming, some will hope it is the last Chagos Day they will spend in exile.

Chagos Day itself takes place on 3 November, but the major celebrations will take place over the weekend on Saturday 5 November. Events will take place in Crawley, home of the biggest Chagossian community in the UK.

The event has been organised by several Chagossian community groups working together, including Crawley British Chagossian Community and Chagos Refugee Group UK. UK Chagos Support Association has also provided some funds to support the event. A public exhibition of Chagossian artist Clement Siatous work and a traditional Chagossian sega will conclude the day's events in the Broadfield Community Centre.

The day marks the 16th anniversary of the Chagossian people's High Court victory over the UK government. The verdict declared the forced removal of the Chagossian people from their Chagos Islands homeland illegal, and stated that they had a right to return.

That verdict was effectively annulled by the UK government's use of Royal Prerogative to ban Chagossians from their homeland by law in 2004. This was highly controversial and spawned over a decade of legal challenge.

Painting by Chagossian artist Clement Siatous

Chagos Day this year comes potentially just weeks before a UK government decision on whether to support a Chagossian return programme. In a Parliamentary debate on the future of the islands last week, a Government minister indicated that a decision on resettlement could be expected “before the end of the year.”

It also comes shortly after long-time Chagossian supporter and TV personality Ben Fogle has launched a new petition calling for the government to grant Chagossians the right to return home.

Events from 4:30 in the Broadfield Community Centre including the art exhibition and traditional sega dance will be open to the public.

Sabrina Jean, Chair of Chagos Refugee Group UK, explains what the day means to the community:

“Chagos Day celebrates the life and struggle of all Chagossians. On the 3rd of November 2000, the Chagossian community was granted the right of return by the UK High Court. We remember this day as a challenge to the British government who have ignored that ruling. We remember those who have died in exile. We remember that 2016 should be the end of the lease for the US military base on Diego Garcia. We celebrate our history, our culture, and our community.”

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