A campaigner for the rights of descendants of natives of a British Overseas Territory, who were forcibly exiled by the UK government, has welcomed a new Bill to secure their citizenship.
West Midlands UKIP MEP James Carver said he was “delighted and relieved” that the Bill had been presented to the House of Commons on Tuesday, which if passed, will make it possible for anyone of Chagossian descent to register as a British Overseas Territories Citizen (BOTC).
The Chagossian people were forcibly exiled from their native Chagos Islands in the late sixties and early seventies by the government after leasing the islands to the US military so they could build a base on the largest island, Diego Garcia.
The inhabitants were sent to Mauritius or the Seychelles without any support to rebuild their lives and some came to Britain.
The Bill was presented by Crawley Conservative MP Henry Smith as a Ten-Minute Rule motion, and received the backing of other MPs.
Mr Carver said: “We can’t turn back the clock and right the wrong that was done to the Chagossians, but at the very least, their grandchildren and future descendants should be allowed to continue living in what is their home once they reach adulthood.
“It is absurd that their parents are British citizens and yet they are treated as immigrants, forced to pay an unaffordable price to stay here or be deported, sending them to a place that is foreign to them and tearing families and lives apart.
“I have been a long-time advocate and supporter of Chagossians and I sincerely hope the Bill proceeds unimpeded through its stages and that they can finally have the rights they so clearly deserve.”
Since the exile, legislation has been passed that gives native Chagossians and the first generation born in exile British Overseas Territories Citizenship and British Citizenship. But the children of that first generation do not have the same rights and are regarded by the Home Office as immigrants like any other.
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’s Bill would allow anyone of Chagossian descent to register as a BOTC. As well as being symbolically important - as all Chagossians would have this status had they not been exiled - it would reduce the costs of acquiring British Citizenship for them from roughly £10,000 to £2,000.
The UK Chagos Support Association is campaigning for this legal change through their No Second Exile campaign. They have also launched a ‘fighting fund’ to help cover the costs of Chagossians acquiring British citizenship in the short term.
The islands are a British Overseas Territory in the Indian Ocean and today are officially known as the British Indian Ocean Territory.