Borders and Nationality Bill Committee to discuss exiled Chagos Islanders rights to UK citizenship
On Thursday 4 November, the Borders and Nationality Bill Committee are expected to discuss proposed amendments to the Government’s Bill, which aim to provide exiled Chagos Islanders and their descendents given a path to UK citizenship.
The proposed reforms would give Chagossians the same rights to UK citizenship which they would have had, if the UK government ordered deportations of the 1960s and 1970s had not happened. MPs from all parties have spoken in support of the proposed amendments.
At present, the grandchildren of the generation deported from the islands have no automatic right to British citizenship - as British citizenship may only be passed down one generation. This has seen many well-documented examples of young Chagossians living in the UK unable to work, continue in education or access services.
Acquiring citizenship can cost upwards of £10,000 in total for Chagossians, which has proved unaffordable for many families. This has left hundreds living in limbo in the UK, often for years. In extreme cases, Chagossians living in the UK have even been deported to countries they have never lived in as an adult (typically Mauritius or Seychelles) or detained by the Home Office in the UK.
The amendments which will be discussed at the Bill Committee on Thursday, due to be raised by Labour’s Bambos Charalambous MP and the SNP’s Stuart McDonald MP, would reduce this cost to a nominal sum and simplify the process for Chagossians wishing to acquire UK citizenship.
One amendment would give the right to UK citizenship to all descendants of someone born on the Chagos Islands, with a clear and much cheaper path to claim this right.
A second amendment would remove the minimum income requirement for individuals to join their Chagossian spouse in the UK. At present, this requirement leads to many families being split between Mauritius, Seychelles, the UK and elsewhere.
The amendments also have the support of Conservative MP for Crawley Henry Smith. Mr Smith plans to introduce these amendments at the Report Stage of the Bill in the coming weeks.
The content of both amendments reflects a 2019 Private Members Bill Henry Smith sponsored. This Private Members Bill was officially endorsed by a Home Affairs Select Committee report. The proposed amendments also have the backing of Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group Chair Andrew Rosindell.
“The grandchildren of people who were British subjects, in the British Indian Ocean Territory, now find themselves with, in effect, no rights to British citizenship, despite the fact that it was no fault of their own that their grandparents and relatives were forcibly exiled from their home territory. This injustice has existed for more than half a century. I plan to introduce an amendment on Report, but I hope that the Government can work with me to remedy this historical injustice once and for all,” stated Henry Smith MP, speaking in Parliament.
UK Chagos Support Association also endorses the amendments fully, a spokesperson stating:
“This is a unique opportunity for the UK government to deliver a much-delayed measure of justice for Chagossians. Successive governments have rightly acknowledged the deportations should never have happened, and pledged to take practical steps to support Chagossians to build better futures.”
“Backing these amendments would stop Chagossians being punished for deportation of their grandparents and make it much more affordable to build new lives in the UK. Chagossians will never give up their right to live in their homeland. But while the UK government continues to forbid return to Chagos, it has a responsibility to allow Chagossians a cheap and accessible path to UK citizenship that acknowledges the historical unfairness the community has faced and which still directly damages the lives of so many in the community every day.”
For more information on these issues, please read the Chagossian Voices briefing below. Fragomen, the legal firm who have supported in drafting these proposed amendments, have also produced a briefing document, which you can download below.
Fragomen LLP - British nationality amendment (BIOT) + Addendum 29 Sep 2021
Download PDF • 280KB
Chagossian Voices briefing
Download • 485KB