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Chagossian Citizenship Amendment defeated in Parliament


Henry Smith's speech in support of his proposed amendment to the Nationality and Borders Bill


Today MPs in the House of Commons voted on an amendment to the Nationality and Borders Bill which would give citizenship to descendents of those born on the Chagos Islands.


Disappointingly, the amendment was defeated 309 - 245 votes. This means access to British citizenship for descendents of those born on the Chagos Islands will not currently be added to the Nationality and Borders Bill.


What happens now?


Although disappionting, this is not the end of the campaign for Chagossian citizenship rights.


The Nationality and Borders Bill will now move to the House of Lords, where there may be further opportunities to win fair citizenship rights for Chagossians.


Writing on Twitter shrotly after the vote, Henry Smith MP, who had proposed the amendment, stated that " The Home Secretary has now met with me to seek a just solution"




As and when the Nationality and Borders Act becomes law, it will also be important to ensure any guidance around the implementation of that law recognises the historic injustices suffered by Chagossians.


This is especially important as the the Nationality and Borders Act gives the Home Secretary new powers to give British citizenship to any applicant at no cost.


Guidance which recognises Chagossians as a class of people who have been denied British Citizenship rights by historic injustice, and who should typically have a low-to-no cost access to British Citizenship, could reduce the administrative and financial burden of accessing citizenship for many Chagossians. Similar iniatives have been set up to deal with other historic injustices, such as the Windrush Scandal.


Background


The amendment was an attempt to address the historic injustice of the descendents of the those born on the Chagos Islands being denied British Citizenship.


This is a direct consequence of the deportations of the 1960s and 1970s. Had those deportations never happened, those living on the Chagos Islands today would have a simple, low-cost path to British Citizenship.


Instead Chagossians are frequently forced to spend over £10,000 in Home Office and legal fees, just to remain with their families in the UK. A family with several children may need to pay this many times over.


This has forced many Chagossian families into debt and severe poverty. Chagossians have even been deported and held in detention. Many more are stuck in limbo in the UK, unable to work, continue in education or access public services and funds.


Related immigration and citizenship issues facing Chagossians


As guidance around the Nationality and Borders Bill is developed, there's a chance to address immigration and nationality issues affecting Chagossians.


For example, many native-born Chagossians married Mauritians or Seychellois in exile after the deportation. But those spouses often have no rights to live in the UK, meaning many have been forced into poverty by visa costs and legal bills, have been detained by the Home Office, and some have even been deported.


Although today’s amendment would not have addressed these issues, Chagossian community campaigners will be asking that they are considered as guidance around the Bill is created.


UK Chagos Support Association reaction


“It is deeply disappointing that the government has missed another opportunity to give a small measure of justice to the Chagossian community. The limited reforms offered by the amendment would have gone a significant way to relieving a vast financial and emotional burden on the Chagossian community. Time and again, the government expresses regret about the way Chagossians have been treated, but fails to change the way it treats the community.”


“We know Chagossians will continue to campaign on this issue. And as the Bill passes through the House of Lords, and the Home Office develops guidance on the implementation of this Bill, we hope there will be further opportunities to ensure Chagossians’ unique history is acknowledged. A better future is still possible with positive action from government.”


"Huge credit must go to the Chagossian community for working hard to get this issue on the media agenda. Individuals and groups, including community platforms Chagossian Voices, BIOT Citizen and Chagos Refugees Group (CRG) have worked hard meeting with MPs and peers, speaking with the media, repsonding to consultations, and gathering compelling evidence of the urgent need for reforms in this area."


"Our thanks also go to Henry Smith MP for leading this campaign in Parliament, and speaking powerfully about the need for justice today. The support of every one of the 245 MPs who chose to back justice for Chagossians is also greatly appreciated. As of course is the invaluable pro bono support of Fragomen, and in particular Alexander Finch, who provided drafting support and expert advice throughout."


"Thanks to for the unflagging support offered by groups including Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRBC), British Overseas Territories Citizenship Campaign (BOTCC) and Amnesty International for supporting these measures."


For more information follow Chagossian Voices, BIOT Citizens, CRG UK and the BOTC Campaign.

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