No Second Exile: Chagossians call for reform to nationality law
Last week, the Chagos Islands Movement (CIM) created a petition and video calling for the Government to reform the confused nationality status of Chagossians.
Current British nationality law concerning Chagossians is extremely complex, due to the tragic exile of the community fifty years ago and subsequent changes to legislation.
The result is that many Chagossian families continue to be divided because of individuals being born on either side of arbitrary dates. There have been numerous cases of detention and deportation. One Chagossian described the current situation as causing a "second exile" to many Chagossians.
Before exile (official date – 28 April 1969), Chagossians were Citizens of the UK and Colonies (CUKC) by virtue of their birth on the Chagos Islands.
Since the exile a series of legislative changes - most notably the British Nationality Act 1981 and the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 - have changed the status of Chagossians so that anyone born on the islands or born to a parent that was born on the islands, will have British nationality or British Overseas Territories Citizenship today.
Our briefing on Chagossian nationality explores the various legislative changes in more detail. The crux of the issue though is that current legislation assumes only one generation will be born in exile - which in reality is not the case.
It is commonplace for Chagossians in Mauritius or the Seychelles with rights to settle in the UK to use their rights and move to Britain. The problems arise when families try to bring their children over, who, under current legislation, are regarded as migrants like any other. All ties to Britain have been stripped from them through no fault of their own but that of history.
The costs for Chagossians wishing to bring their children to the UK are astronomical - amounting to over £10,000 over the five year period it takes to acquire citizenship. Many Chagossians cannot afford these costs and end up racking up severe debts and entering into lengthy and costly legal disputes.
The financial burden, emotional stress and time associated with acquiring British citizenship is an enormous hindrance to Chagossians and puts a substantial strain on a community that could otherwise be flourishing.
Last year, when the Government decided against a pilot resettlement scheme for Chagossians, they announced a £40 million funding package to "support improvements to the livelihoods of Chagossians in the communities where they now live".
Since then, the funding has been the subject of intense debate in the Chagossian community, with many Chagossians declaring a boycott of anything funded by the package.
In workshops we have run with the community, we have found nationality law to be the most pressing issue. To address it does not require an enormous budget, just an amendment to existing legislation that gives anyone descended from the Chagos Islands (irrespective of generation) the right to register as a British Overseas Territories Citizen.
Such an amendment does not confer any special privilege to Chagossians - it would simply reinstate a citizenship status that thousands of Chagossians were never able to acquire because of a brutal and illegal exile.
We have been in discussions with MPs about this amendment and we hope to see it debated in the House of Commons chamber later this year.
The UK Government were responsible for the exile of Chagossians in the first place. That a second exile from Britain is continuing to happen under their watch is deplorable. The Government must act now - a failure to do so would create another enormous stain on the UK's human rights record.