The Eviction

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Not only did Britain have to effectively steal the islands, it also had to get rid of the people.

In the midst of the Cold War, the United States decided it wanted a military base in the Indian Ocean to keep the USSR and China from threatening the Arabian Gulf. Suddenly the Chagos archipelago was more than just an insignificant speck on the map. The US’ first choice location for a new base was the uninhabited Aldabra Atoll, but Harold Wilson, the then British Prime Minister, feared antagonism from ecologists, as Aldabra is home to a rare breed of turtle. So he offered Diego Garcia instead, even though it was inhabited.

 

In 1966 Britain secretly leased Diego Garcia to the US for 50 years, with the option of an extension. This was done in exchange for a discount of millions of dollars on Polaris nuclear submarines – a way of concealing the payment. The US pays rent of one dollar per year. The deal was not disclosed to the US Congress, the British Parliament, or the United Nations.

Until this time the Chagos islands had been part of the British colony of Mauritius, but in order to lease Diego Garcia to the US, Britain had to avoid giving the islands back to Mauritius when that country became independent in 1968. So, in 1965 the “British Indian Ocean Territory”, as the archipelago is now officially known, was invented for the sole purpose of setting up the base. It is the only new British colony to be established since decolonisation. This was a violation of UN Declaration 1514 of 1960 stating the inalienable right of colonial peoples to independence, and Resolution 2066 of 1965 (which Britain never signed), instructing Britain to “take no action which would dismember the territory of Mauritius and violate [its] territorial integrity”. Britain retains the islands to this day, promising to return them to Mauritius as soon as the US and the UK are done with them.

 

Not only did Britain have to effectively steal the islands, it also had to get rid of the people. The US took Diego Garcia only on condition that all the Chagos islands were uninhabited – the Chagossians had to go. To achieve this, Britain simply pretended that there were no Chagossians, and conspired to make sure their unlawful removal went unnoticed.

The Foreign Office invented a false history, claiming that the Chagossians were only itinerant labourers with no right of abode on the islands. This is a lie and they knew it – many Chagossians were fifth generation islanders. It is on record that one senior Foreign Office official described the islanders, in a letter, as ‘mere Tarzans and Men Fridays’. The US and the UK succeeded in keeping secret what had happened for many years. A small token force of British naval personnel is kept on Diego Garcia, which is now the US’ largest overseas military base.

 

In 1967 the British government bought out the plantation owners, shut down the plantations and stopped the regular supply ship. With no warning or consultation, the islanders, numbering about 2000 at this time, were told that they were all being evicted. Those who tried to flee to the outer islands were rounded up. The islanders were isolated, intimidated, and tricked into believing that they would be settled into a similar environment with their own land and houses.

 

Armed men put the islanders in groups of 300 or more on to a ship designed to carry 50 and shipped them off to Mauritius or the Seychelles. They were forced to abandon their homes and all their possessions except one small bag each. These men slaughtered their livestock and destroyed their homes. Many of the exiles witnessed all of this.

Those who were on trips away at the time were simply not allowed back, left stranded in foreign lands with nothing but what they had with them. In 1971, Britain made it official with an Immigration Ordinance denying the Chagossians the right to ever return home.