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Should we really care about the Chagossians?

October 22, 2008

chagossians_prayer.jpgchagossians_prayer.jpgShould we really care that Britain’s House of Lords upheld a British government appeal on Wednesday, blocking the return of hundreds of Chagossians to their Indian Ocean homes?The decision by the House of Lords ends a years-long battle to secure the Chagos Islanders the right to return to their archipelago, from where they were forcibly removed in the 1960s and ’70s to make way for an American airbase on Diego Garcia.

By a ruling of 3-2, the lords backed a British government appeal that argued that allowing the islanders to return could have a detrimental effect on defence and international security. It’s a tough decision and an agonizing result for the Chagos islanders. They continue to suffer appalling injustice because of the British government, who booted them out of the Chagos islands – also known as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) – to make way for a US military base.

But now the estimated 5,000 Chagossians are mostly scattered between Mauritius, Seychelles, and Britain. And the younger generations (many of whom are half Chagossian) don’t seem so keen to return. One expert has said that about 1,000 Chagossians could return to two of Chago’s six atolls, making a living from coconuts, fishing and ecotourism. But others say this outline plan has grossly underestimated the costs and practical difficulties. Should we, in fact, breathe a sigh of relief at the House of Lords’ decision?chagossians_island1.jpg

Small islands like those in the Chagos Archipelago tend to have an incredibly rich variety of plants and animals, often found nowhere else. Scientists and sailors visiting the islands describe a near paradise of coral reefs teeming with fish. And examples from elsewhere in the Indian Ocean – Mauritius, Madagascar, Reunion, Comoros, and the Seychelles – show just how badly human populations can damage the environment.

The Chagos Archipelago, for example, has the largest coral atoll in the world, 10 so-called Important Bird Areas, ideal nesting conditions for two turtle species, and – according to tests in 1996 and 2006 – some of the world’s cleanest waters too. And while a 1998 rise in water temperatures killed as much as 95 percent of coral in some areas, Chagos’ reefs grew back probably because there is so little human activity, scientists say. The nearby Maldives were not so lucky.

A sense of justice tells us that Chagossians should be allowed to return. But if these islands truly are on the frontline in the battle against extinctions and if such clean and isolated regions are truly a rarity, then should we really be upset by the block on Chagossians’ return to their homeland?


Thanks for raising the question Ed. My answer is clearly YES, we do care. The human rights of the Chagossions are grossly violated and any civil society cannot accept that.
In an environmental sense the Chagos Archipelagos is indeed unique and could probably be best served by declaring it a Marine Reserve. The Chagossians could play an important function as guardians of the reserve. They will probably do a better job at it then the US is doing to the Diego Garcia reefs. Has there ever been an environmental impact study on the effects of US military activities at Diego Garcia? Approximately 50 foreign seiners and 25 longliners are licenced by the UK government each year to fish for tuna in the Chagos EEZ. An estimated 21 ton of fish was caught in 2006 by the inhabitants of Diego Garcia. See 07/sc/IOTC-2007-SC-INF06.pdf for the details.


Thank you for the great blog. Yes, we should care. The best solution is to involve the Chagossians in conservation works.
The basic human rights of these people should be respected. And the Chagossians should also respect and live in harmony with the environment on their islands. But yesterday’s ruling makes all of it impossible.

Posted by Maya Rattini | Report as abusive

Absolutely, we should care. I wonder how any of the readers would feel if they were removed from their homes and dumped miles away in a foreign country?

And as for preserving the natural environment, and the possible damage which could be done to the ecosystem by cocount farming and fishing, you cannot be so naive as to believe that the US Air Base there is fragrant-free?

Diego Garcia hosts nuclear bombers, a fairly large town where the base staff and families live, GPS base stations and a variety of GCHQ and NSA installations.

Ask yourself this, does a Coconut Farm really sound more dangerous to the environment than a Long-Base Transmitter?


This is simply an example of a government overflexing it’s muscles to get what it wants – nothing new there.

Of course, the strategic importance of the Operations hosted on Diego Garcia needs to be considered, but it’s folly to deny that the reason the Chagos naturals cannot return is that there’s a big, secretive military installation there, and there’s no way they’re going to allow civillians to wander around on it.

Posted by mook | Report as abusive

We care and the UK ought to be ashamed of itself. This is blatant robbery. They must never give up this injustice and modern day banditry. Yet they have the audacity to condemn Russia, hypocrites.

Posted by Nduka Tolefe | Report as abusive

I personally do think that the whole world should not only care but denounce the legal support given to the British Government for the callous act of uprooting the Chagossians. The issue is not whether the younger generation want to go back or not,whether there are security implications or not but whether the Chagossians deserve the inhuman treatment meted to them in the first place- Do they deserve their homeland or not? Let some Brazilians move into Newcastle or London and forcefully eject the indigenes and afterwards lease part of the territory to Kenyans or Nigerians- Sure the House of Lords will not arrive at same decision.What is worthy of condemnation should be derided absolutely. I care and personally as a Lawyer, i weep at this legally backed might is right.

Posted by Edwin Adakole Inegedu | Report as abusive

It is really important to raise this issue. The ruling is really shameful! EWnvironment or people : People and environment is the answer.

Posted by Flora barerri | Report as abusive

This is really colonialism at its best! It sounds quite similar to the arguments extended by the white South African Government during Apartheid on why Africans should live in Bantustans. Next we shall be justifying Australians getting aborigines out of the country or Americans doing the same for american Indians “for their own good.” Who told the west not to protect their environment that others should now suffer for their interests?

Posted by Juliet | Report as abusive

This is disgraceful and will only add to the Uk long list of injustices committed on people around the globe from times immemorial. This is like taking a child from his mother and giving it away to a host family…criminal

Posted by tziri djamel | Report as abusive

This happened in 67′.

Posted by jason | Report as abusive

Damn it, we should care. It is so shameful they can actually justify their actions. Let us move the British people to Siberia turn their Island into a Russia military zone. How’s that?

Posted by kamanga | Report as abusive

What kind of suggestion is this?I think no Chagossians will accept this. And the entire British people should be ashamed of what the Chagossians are going through today.They should ask and demand their government to return what belongs to the Chagossians The Britain as a country had lost its rights to talk about freedom, democracy and justice.The Chagossians should continue their democratic struggle.


wow, these people sound cool, we should care, i need to reasearch them for a school report!

Posted by liebelt | Report as abusive

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