UK

Chagos Islanders will not be allowed home, UK government says

Chagos Image copyright SPL
Image caption Campaigners 'will continue the fight' for Chagossians to be allowed to return to the islands

Former residents of the Chagos Islands who were removed to make way for a US airbase in the 1960s and 70s will not be allowed back, the government says.

Instead, it has decided the Chagossians will be offered compensation worth £40m over the next 10 years.

The government also confirmed that the UK would allow the US to keep its military base in the islands in the British Indian Ocean Territory.

Campaigners said they were "disappointed" with the decision.

Families were forced to leave the British overseas territory by the government between 1967 and 1973 when it was leased to the US to build an airbase at Diego Garcia.

Foreign Office minister Baroness Anelay told MPs the government had decided against resettlement on the grounds of "feasibility, defence and security interests and the cost to the British taxpayer".

She said it had "taken care" in coming to its final decision on resettlement and would instead seek to support improvements to the livelihoods of the islanders in their current communities.

'Why not us?'

The Chagos Refugees Group, which is fighting for the right of the islanders to be allowed to return, said it was "disappointed" with the decision.

Campaigner Sabrina Jean told the BBC: "We will continue our fight any way we can by lobbying here in the UK and the US to see what help and support we can have.

"For me the British government has always done wrong things to the Chagossian community but now it's time to see what we can do to let them correct the wrong they have done to us.

"Everyone has the right to live on their island but why not us?"

There is a 3,000-strong community of Chagossians who live in Crawley, West Sussex, near to Gatwick airport.

The government said in coming to the decision it had considered carefully the practicalities of setting up a small remote community on low-lying islands.

It said the possible challenges were "significant" and included the need to set up modern public services, the limited healthcare and education that would be available and a lack of jobs.

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Media captionAllen Vincatassin says he "thought the government would do the right thing... but this hasn't been the case.

Allen Vincatassin, president of the provisional government of Diego Garcia and Chagos Islands, said he wanted to work with the government regarding the £40m package.

He said: "This money is going to be spent on training and also how to alleviate poverty in certain communities. We will need discuss further how this money will be spent to change the lives of our people.

"This should have been given to us years ago. But in no way will we will be accepting this as an exchange of our right to return."

Television presenter Ben Fogle, who is patron of the UK Chagos Support Association, described the decision as a "dark day" in Britain's history.

In 2015, he insisted he would charter a boat and take exiled islanders back to their homeland if the government refused to support the resettlement.

Reacting to the latest decision, he said: "It's another heartbreaking day for the Chagossian community, who have repeatedly been betrayed and abused by their own government.

"That even now, with so many reasons to support their return, the government has failed to do the right thing, makes this a dark day in our country's history."

Immune from scrutiny

The government's decision is the latest in a long legal battle regarding the islanders' right to return back to the islands.

In 2000, the High Court ruled they could return to 65 islands but not to Diego Garcia. The decision was nullified four years later by the government, using royal prerogative.

Then in 2007, the court overturned that order and rejected the government's argument that the royal prerogative was immune from scrutiny.

However, the following year the government won an appeal, with the House of Lords ruling the exiles could not return.

This decision was upheld by the Supreme Court in June.

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