• Tom Guha

Pressure builds in Parliament for reform of Chagos citizenship laws

Calls for reform of citizenship laws for Chagossians have pinballed around Parliament in recent months, meeting the former and current Home Secretaries several times on the floor of the House, in the Home Affairs Committee and, most recently, in the Home Secretary’s own private office.

Yesterday, pressure built further as the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee urged the Government to support Henry Smith MP’s Private Member’s Bill. The Bill, which was presented to Parliament in January, would allow anyone of Chagossian descent to acquire British nationality. Currently citizenship rights only extend to native Chagossians and the first generation born in exile.

The committee’s recommendation came in their most recent report, entitled Windrush Children. The report describes Chagossians as being "unfairly affected by UK immigration policies" and points out that, "perversely, had Chagossians remained on the Chagos Islands… they would all be entitled to register as British citizens today." The Government have sixty days to respond to the committee.

So far the official Government position remains only to “consider the matter further”. In a meeting with Mr Smith, the Home Secretary explained that he intends to bring forward a Bill in the “not too distant future” to tidy up immigration legislation. While there is no commitment that the new Bill will address citizenship problems of Chagossians, Henry Smith, the MP for Crawley, said he is “cautiously optimistic” that it will.

The increased pressure for action on Chagossian citizenship rights has come as a result of the Windrush scandal. Although the two issues have occurred for two distinct legal reasons, they are strikingly similar. Both groups should be British citizens by birth and both groups are having that right denied.

We look forward to seeing the Government’s response to the Windrush Children report and we hope the Home Secretary will bring forward reforms to citizenship law for Chagossians as a matter of urgency.

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