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Context of '(1966): British Official Suggest Reclassifying Chagos Islanders as ‘Floating Population’'

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A British Foreign Office official writes of “convert[ing] all the existing residents [of the Chagos Islands] into short-term, temporary residents” in order to justify their removal to make room for US naval facilities planned for the island of Diego Garcia (see 1963-1965). (Pilger 10/2/2004; Pilger 10/22/2004)

Under the heading “Maintaining The Fiction,” an unnamed British official recommends in a memo that Britain reclassify the residents of the Chagos Archipelago as “a floating population.” He also suggests making “up the rules as we go along.” (Pilger 10/22/2004)

Britain agrees to pay £650,000 (about $1.4 million) to the Mauritius government for costs associated with the resettlement of the Chagossians, who are being evicted from their homes in the Chagos Islands by the British (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973). It is paid in March 1973. No help is provided to Seychelles, which has also received displaced islanders. (Ottaway 9/9/1975; British Royal Courts of Justice 10/9/2003) Most of the money goes toward repaying debts the Chagossians have incurred. (Bain 11/17/2003)

In London, Lord Justice Laws and Justice Gibbs rule that the US and Britain’s forced removal of some 1,800 people from the Chagos Islands (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973) was illegal, thereby granting the islands’ former inhabitants the right to resettle the archipelago. (BBC 11/3/2000; MacAskill 11/4/2000; Miller 11/4/2000; BBC 10/31/2002; Madeley 1/7/2005) The court also awards the Chagossians with the costs of resettling (MacAskill 11/4/2000) but does not order the government to provide them with compensation. (MacAskill and Evans 12/13/2000) The judges also find that the two governments deliberately misled the United Nations and their own legislative bodies when they claimed that the displaced population consisted entirely of seasonal contract workers from Mauritius and the Seychelles and had no right to remain there (see April 21, 1969). Additionally, the ruling criticizes the two governments for not seeing to the welfare of the islanders after they were evicted. (Lobe 1/28/2002) Within hours of the ruling, the British Foreign Office accepts the judgment but says that the islanders will only be permitted to resettle on the islands of Penhos Banhos and Salomon. No one will be permitted to return to Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands, where most of the Chagossians once lived. The US is leasing the island until 2016 (see December 30, 1966) and is operating a very large naval base there (see March 1971). (MacAskill 11/4/2000; Miller 11/4/2000) Commenting on the case, an unnamed US Defense Department official tells the Los Angeles Times: “The United States does have a strategic interest on Diego Garcia. But this is a matter between the British authorities and the individuals who brought the case. We have no comment on the merits of the case.” The official adds that Diego Garcia “has played a primary role in the support of naval and Air Force units operating in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf.” (Miller 11/4/2000)


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