Helping the ‘exiled and ignored’ Chagossians

Henry Smith MP in the House of Commons
Henry Smith MP in the House of Commons
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Displaced Chagossians are a step closer to receiving ‘some measure of fairness’, half a century after they were displaced from their homeland.

Yesterday (Tuesday January 16) Crawley MP Henry Smith presented a Bill to Parliament which, if passed, will allow anyone of Chagossian descent to register as a British Overseas Territories Citizen.

Presenting the motion under the Ten Minute Rule, Mr Smith said it is backed by MPs from all seven of the parties represented in Parliament.

“Crawley is home to perhaps the largest Chagossian population in the world,” he said, “and it’s my privilege to stand up for this community in Parliament, and locally.”

Mr Smith said the Chagossian people had been ‘exiled and ignored’, having been forced off their native Chagos Islands to make way for a US military base.

Although the displaced Chagossians had British Overseas Territories Citizenship, and the first generation born in exile had British Citizenship, the same does not apply to subsequent generations - the law regards them as foreign immigrants.

Chagos - No Second Exile campaign

Chagos - No Second Exile campaign

This has resulted in Chagossian families facing hefty financial and legal costs to keep their youngest members in the country. Many families struggle to keep up with the payments and Chagossian children have been detained or deported once they reach adulthood, despite their parents being British citizens.

Mr Smith told the House: “The Chagossian islanders have been treated appallingly over half a century. This Bill does not give special privileges to them but it aims to reinstate citizenship rights that subsequent generations were prevented from acquiring as a result of their ancestors’ exile from the British Indian Ocean Territory.

“We owe this to these people. And while it will not turn back the hand of history and erase the many years of tragedy that Chagossians have suffered, it will, I hope, give some measure of fairness and enable the community to grow and prosper in years to come.”

The Bill was approved for a Second Reading, due to be held on March 16 this year.

Speaking in Central Lobby after introducing his Bill, Henry said; “I’m grateful to parliamentary colleagues across seven political parties represented in the House of Commons supporting my Bill.

“We can’t right the wrongs of UK governments of the past, but we can ease the burden which this country has placed on these Britons. We can provide assistance to those whose story is not recognised in the country which removed them from the place – a British territory – they call home.

“Successive British administrations have shown scant regard for the rights of the Chagossian people. This Bill is our chance for Parliament to send a clear message that elected representatives in the UK not only recognise the treatment of the Chagossian community, but that we want to help them.

“The dignity of the Chagossian community and their dedication in campaigning to have back what was taken from them is an inspiration. As has been the case when Parliament has discussed their plight previously, there was a large Chagossian contingent watching in the House of Commons public gallery.

“As Crawley MP it’s my privilege to represent in the Commons perhaps the largest Chagossian population in the world, who live in our town. Myself and colleagues on the Chagos All-Party Parliamentary Group, on which I serve as a Vice Chair, continue to believe that in the long-term, this community must be allowed the right to return to their homeland.

“For today, however, providing these Britons with British overseas territory citizenship is the right thing to do. If the population had not been evicted half a century ago, all born on the islands would already have British citizen status.”

The Crawley MP concluded his speech in the House of Commons by saying; “Around the world, our great nation is known for its values, including the traditional sense of British fair play. I am a patriot and I love my country. We do have a proud history and, I believe, a bright future. But our nation’s treatment of the Chagossian people is a blight on our country’s conscience—one that we can start to put right by helping these Britons all to become British overseas territories citizens. I commend the Bill to the House.”

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