New Plan for Immigration Consultation: Our response
The UK government has released a New Plan for Immigration, which includes measures it is stated will "address historical anomalies" in UK nationality law and allow children of people born in British Overseas Territories to acquire UK citizenship "more easily."
Currently, there are no direct references to Chagossians in the New Plan for Immigration. But some of the proposed measures, including proposed "changes in law so that children entitled to British Citizenship through their biological father (while their mother was married to someone else at the time of their birth) have an entitlement to register for British citizenship, rather than simply relying on a discretionary route to do so" could benefit some Chagossians.
Crucially, the New Plan for Immigration is now open for public responses on on how it can be improved. UK Chagos Support Association will be submitting the response copied in below, which calls for all descendents of any individual born on the Chagos Islands to have a cost-free entitlement to British citizenship. Details of how you can respond are included below - please note the deadline for responding is Thursday 6th May 2021.
Our response in line with similar responses being produced by Chagossian community platform Chagossian Voices and legal firm Fragomen, which we also fully back. Chagossian Voices have started a petition in support of their response, which you can sign here.
The changes included in this proposal are similar to those proposed by Henry Smith's British Indian Ocean Territory (Citizenship) Bill in 2018. They would address the huge injustice faced by many young Chagossians (the grandchildren of the last generation born on the islands) that they must pay an average of over £10,000 to acquire UK citizenship.
If the deportation had not happened, a community living on Chagos would have a relatively straightforward path to UK citizenship at a fraction of the cost.
Anyone is welcome to take part in the consultation, which you can respond to here and cloes on 6 May 2021. You do not have to answer every question in the consultation and we will be responding only to Q7 of Chapter 3, by adding the below. Any individual or group is welcome to use any of the below in their own response.
UK Chagos Support Association Response to New Plan for Immigration: Chapter 3, Question 7
We support the measures to reform nationality law that will mean children entitled to British Citizenship through their biological father (while their mother was married to someone else at the time of their birth) have an entitlement to register for British citizenship, rather than simply relying on a discretionary route to do so.
The proposals can be improved by addressing the unique injustice suffered by people descended from individuals born in the British Indian Ocean Territory, known as the Chagos Islands. The descendents of people born in this particular British Overseas Territory suffer a unique disadvantage because of their compulsory deportation from their homeland in the 1960s and 1970s.
We are aware of a proposed legal change which would give all people descended from individuals born on the Chagos Islands an entitlement to British citizenship, which is being proposed by Fragomen in response to this plan. As a support group with over 20 years experience working with the Chagossian community, we back this proposal and the extension of an entitlement to British Citizenship for all descendants of any person born in the British Indian Ocean Territory.
We are also aware a number of Chagossian community groups and individuals are responding to the New Plan for Immigration and we urge you to give top priority to considering their responses.
In our role administering small hardship grants to the Chagossian community over 2 decades, we have seen the huge financial burden the costs of acquiring UK citizenship places on Chagossians. A high proportion of the community living in the UK are faced with the prospect of needing to save thousands of pounds to get citizenship for their children, even though they themselves are British citizens and may have lived in the country for many years with their children.
In a community faced with high levels of poverty, due in large part to the difficulties caused by the deportations and the failure of government to provide support in exile, the cost of acquiring UK citizenship, which have been estimated as in total amounting to an average of over £10,000 per person by experts, are extremely hard to meet. The pandemic of the past year has only increased pressures on the community, with many jobs losses in the main UK population centres in Crawley and Wythenshawe due to the collapse of the travel industry.
The need to prioritise the costs associated with citizenship causes severe hardship in other areas, with many Chagossians going into debt and rent arrears to finance the costs associated with acquiring UK citizenship for their children.
Removing the huge cost associated with obtaining British citizenship for all descendants of people born on the Chagos Islands would significantly reduce the financial burden the Chagossian community still lives with as a direct result of the deportations of the 1960s and 1970s.
The measures suggested in Fragomen's response to this consultation, which would achieve an entitlement for British citizenship for all descendants of an individual born on the on the Chagos Islands, closely mirror Henry Smith's British Indian Ocean Territory (Citizenship) Bill, which was developed in response to a recognised need from Mr Smith's Chagossian constituents, and other Chagossians around the UK and further afield.
Young Chagossians, many of whom had come here legally with British citizen parents as children, are being left in limbo as they enter adulthood - unable to work or continue in education as they can not afford citizenship costs. In some cases, Chagossians have been threatened with deportation and even deported because of these issues.
Had Chagossians not been deported against their wishes, under UK government orders in the 1960s and 1970s, this issue would not have arisen and a community living on Chagos would now have a much simpler and much cheaper path to British citizenship.
Providing all descendants of anyone born on the British Indian Ocean Territory (Chagos Islands) with an entitlement to British citizenship would show a real willingness to address the consequences of the mass deportation of the Chagossian community, which the government has acknowledged to be “wrong” and a “matter of sincere regret.”
When the government decided against a resettlement programme requested by the Chagossian community in 2016, Ministers stated their commitment to “seek to support improvements to the livelihoods of Chagossians in the communities where they now live now.”
Particularly for communities living in the UK, there is no single measure that would go further towards achieving this stated goal than establishing a cost-free entitlement to British Citizenship for any descendant of an individual born in the British Indian Ocean Territory, as this would hugely reduce the huge financial, administrative and emotional burden many Chagossian families currently face throughout the process of acquiring UK citizenship.
In conclusion, reform of nationality law to end this anomaly is a deeply important and necessary tool to deliver a measure of justice for Chagossians.
But, we would add, it in no way represents complete justice for Chagossians, which will only be attained when Chagossians themselves are fully compensated for the hardship they have experienced, able to return to their homeland and decide the future of their community and their islands.