UK Government backs UK citizenship rights for Chagos Islanders and descendents

Today the UK's House of Commons committed to introdue historic amendment to the Nationality and Borders Bill, which would give descendents of exiled Chagos Islanders the opportunity to register as British Citizens at no cost. You can read the fact sheet describing the details of this amendmnet on the Government's website. An amendment to the Nationality and Borders Bill was recently passed in the House of Lords which would give any descendant of someone born on the Chagos Islanders a cost-free path to British citizenship.

Ahead of the Bill’s return to the House of Commons, Minister for Future Borders and Immigration Kevin Foster has confirmed the Government have accepted the “unique situation” of the Chagossian community and has pledged to “create a bespoke British nationality route for Chagossians.”

Speaking in the House of Commons today, Home Office Minister Tom Pursglove confirmed "a new route to British nationality for Chagossians descended from individuals removed from the British Indian Ocean Territory [Chagos Islands]." He added that this route "will be free" and there will be "no good character requirement," which could limit elgibility and access to these citizenship rights. This change will have the greatest effect on the descendents of those removed from Chagos. Under the current laws, the grandchildren of Chagossians deported from the Chagos Island have no automatic right to British Citizenship, and had to pay costs which could reach over £10,00 to access citizenship, even if they had British citizen parents and grandparents and already lived in the UK. This had led to a common issue of young Chagossians in the UK being unable to work, study or access basic services as they were unable to afford citizenship costs. Chagossians have also faced threats of deportation from the UK and dentention by immigration services. In a letter to Conservative MP Henry Smith, who has long campaigned for this legal change which would benefit many of his Crawley constituents, Mr Foster confirmed that the government would propose and back a fresh amendment to the Nationality and Borders Bill in the House of Commons which would endorse the provisions of the proposed House of Lords amendment. All other major opposition parties have indicated their support for such measures during the passage of the Bill. Further details of how this will work in practice have now been published in a simple Home Office fact sheet. These new routes should be available shortly after the Nationality and Borders Bill becomes law.

Reaction from Chagossians BIOT Citizens statement on Twitter “We could not be happier. Many Chagossian families have been praying for a fair & just outcome so we can be reunited with our families. Many of us have not seen our parents, grandparents, cousins in years.” Chagossian Voices statement on Twitter “A historic moment as Thomas Pursglove MP outlines the Government's Chagos Islanders amendment to the Nationality and Borders Bill, providing UK citizenship for all of Chagossian descent. Our heartfelt thanks to all who have made this possible."

Chagos Refugees Group UK Branch statement on Twitter “Great News for Chagossians today a big thank you to Henry Smith MP for your support to the Chagossians’ cause.” Statement from Henry Smith MP on Twitter “I spoke in the House of Commons today as Chagos families UK citizenship rights were confirmed by the government, accepting the provisions of my Nationality and Borders Bill earlier amendment.”

"The right of return campaign for the exiled islanders continues."

UK Chagos Support Association statement “This has been a massively significant day for the Chagossian community around the world. Chagossians have been denied British Citizenship because the deportations of the 1960s and 1970s denied subsequent generations the opportunity to be born on the Chagos Islands. This has led to huge suffering, with families forced apart and forced into extreme debt and poverty, as they seek to pay citizenship and immigration costs for their children that can rise to over ten thousand pounds.” “Governments have long expressed ‘regret’ around the deportations of 1960s and 1970s, but have failed to deal with the consequences that continue to punish Chagossians today for the mistakes of previous British governments. This is an important first step in delivering justice for the community.” “We are pleased all major UK political parties have agreed to support these measures in the House of Commons. Huge credit must go to Chagossian activists, including community groups like Chagossian Voices, BIOT Citizens, Chagos Refugees Group, Chagos Islanders Movement and many more, for years - in fact decades - of campaigning work on this issue.” “Thanks must also be extended to politicians from all parties who have come together to support Chagossians on these issues. Most of all, Henry Smith MP for beginning this campaign to amend the Nationality and Borders Bill to give Chagossians UK citizenship rights. But also active support from figures including Baroness Lister, Baroness Ludford, Bambos Charalambous MP, Stuart McDonald MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Andew Rosindell MP, Mike Kane MP, the late Lord Avebury and so many more.” “Credit is also due to the expert pro bono legal advice of Alexander Finch of Fragomen, and for the tireless work of Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group co-ordinator David Snoxell. The support of the British Overseas Territory Citizenship Campaign has also been highly valuable and much appreciated.”

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