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Chagossians/Chagos Islanders
Flag of the Chagossian people[1][2]
Chagossian man harvesting coconuts, photographed shortly before the first United States encampment, 1971.
Regions with significant populations
Smaller populations:
Chagossian Creole · Mauritian Creole · Seychellois Creole · English · French
Predominantly Christianity

The Chagossians (also Îlois [il.wa][3] or Chagos Islanders) are an Afro-Asian ethnic group originating from freed African slaves brought to the Chagos Islands, specifically Diego Garcia, Peros Banhos, and the Salomon island chain, in the late 18th century as well as people of Asian (Indian and Malay) descent.[4] Under international law, they are the indigenous people of the Chagos archipelago. Most Chagossians now live in Mauritius and the United Kingdom after being forcibly removed by the British government in the late 1960s and early 1970s so that Diego Garcia, the island where most Chagossians lived, could serve as the location for a United States military base. Today, no Chagossians are allowed to live on the island of Diego Garcia or anywhere in the Chagos archipelago, despite many of the islands they used to inhabit being over 160 km away from Diego Garcia.

The Chagossians are a mix of African, Indian and Malay descent.[4] The French brought some to the Chagos Islands as slaves from Mauritius in 1786. Others arrived as fishermen, farmers, and coconut plantation workers during the 19th century.

The Chagossians speak Chagossian Creole, a French-based creole language whose vocabulary also incorporates words originating in various African and Asian languages and is part of the Bourbonnais Creole family. Chagossian Creole is still spoken by some of their descendants in Mauritius and the Seychelles. Chagossian people living in the UK speak English. Some settled in the town of Crawley in West Sussex, and the Chagossian community there numbered approximately 3,000 in 2016.[5] Manchester also has a Chagossian community, which has included artist Audrey Albert.[6]

In 2016, the British government rejected the right of the Chagossians to return to the islands after a 45-year legal dispute.[7][8] In 2019, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion stating that the United Kingdom did not have sovereignty over the Chagos Islands and that the administration of the archipelago should be handed over "as rapidly as possible" to Mauritius.[9]



Early history and ethnogenesis


In 1793, when the first successful colony was founded on Diego Garcia, coconut plantations were established on many of the atolls and isolated islands of the archipelago. Initially the workers were enslaved Africans, but after 1840 they were freemen, many of whom were descended from those earlier enslaved. They formed an inter-island culture called Ilois (a French Creole word meaning Islanders).[10]

Expulsion and dispossesion


In 1965, as part of a deal to grant Mauritian independence, the UK separated the Chagos Archipelago, at the time a part of its Mauritius territory, from the colony and reorganized it as the British Indian Ocean Territory.[11] The territory's new constitution was set out in a statutory instrument imposed unilaterally with no referendum or consultation with the Chagossians and it envisaged no democratic institutions.[12] On 16 April 1971, the United Kingdom issued a policy called BIOT Immigration Ordinance #1 which made it a criminal offense for those without military clearance to be on the islands without a permit.[13]

Abandoned church at Boddam Island, Salomon Atoll.

Between 1967 and 1973, the Chagossians, then numbering over 1,000 people, were expelled by the British government, first to the island of Peros Banhos, 100 miles (160 km) away from their homeland, and then, in 1973, to Mauritius.[14] A number of Chagossians who were evicted reported that they were threatened with being shot or bombed if they did not leave the island.[13] One old man reported to The Washington Post journalist David Ottaway that an American official told him, "If you don't leave you won't be fed any longer."[13] BIOT commissioner Bruce Greatbatch later ordered all dogs/pets on the island to be destroyed. Meanwhile, food stores on the island were allowed to deplete in order to pressure the remaining inhabitants to leave.[13] The Chagossians owned no real property on the islands and lived in housing provided for farm workers by the absentee landowners of the plantations. The forced expulsion of the Chagossians after the acquisition of the plantations from their absentee landlords by the British Government was for the purpose of establishing a United States air and naval base on Diego Garcia, with a population of between 3,000 and 5,000 U.S. soldiers and support staff, as well as a few troops from the United Kingdom.[13] Their exile is referred to as the "dérasiné" in the Chagossian language.[15]

In early April 2006, in an excursion organised and financed by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, a group of around a hundred Chagossians were permitted to visit the British Indian Ocean Territory for the first time in over thirty years.[16]

Court battles


In April 2006, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected a lawsuit by Louis Olivier Bancoult and other Chagossians, finding that their claims were a non-justiciable political question, i.e. a question that U.S. courts cannot handle because it is properly the business of the Congress to address it legislatively.[17][18]

On 11 May 2006, the Chagossians won their case in the High Court of Justice in England, which found that they were entitled to return to the Chagos Archipelago. It remained to be seen how this judgment might be implemented in practice.[19] However, in June 2006 the British government filed an appeal in the Court of Appeal against the High Court's decision. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office put forward an argument based on the treatment of the Japanese Canadians following the attacks on Pearl Harbor.[20]

After the Court of Appeal had upheld the decision of the High Court, the British government appealed successfully to the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords. On 22 October 2008, the Law Lords reached a decision on the appeal made by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, David Miliband. They found in favour of the Government in a 3–2 verdict, ending the legal process in the UK and dashing the islanders' hopes of return. The judges who voted to allow the government's appeal were Lord Hoffmann, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, and Lord Carswell; those dissenting were Lord Bingham of Cornhill and Lord Mance.[21]

In 2016, the British government denied the right of the Chagossians to return to the islands after a 45-year legal dispute.[7]

In 2019, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion stating that the United Kingdom did not have sovereignty over the Chagos Islands and that the administration of the archipelago should be handed over "as rapidly as possible" to Mauritius.[9] The United Nations General Assembly then voted to give Britain a six-month deadline to begin the process of handing-over the islands.[22]

Marine nature reserve and government communications leak


In April 2010, the British Government—specifically, the British diplomat Colin Roberts, acting on the instructions of David Miliband[23]—established a marine nature reserve around the Chagos Islands known as the Chagos Marine Protected Area.[24] The designation proved controversial as the decision was announced during a period when the UK Parliament was in recess.[25]

On 1 December 2010, a leaked US Embassy London diplomatic cable dating back to 2009[26] exposed British and US calculations in creating the marine nature reserve. The cable relays exchanges between US Political Counselor Richard Mills and British Director of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Colin Roberts, in which Roberts "asserted that establishing a marine park would, in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago's former residents". Richard Mills concludes:

Establishing a marine reserve might, indeed, as the FCO's Roberts stated, be the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands' former inhabitants or their descendants from resettling in the [British Indian Ocean Territory].

However, the cable also mentions that "there are proposals (for a marine park) that could provide the Chagossians warden jobs". As of 2018, no such jobs exist. The cable (reference ID "09LONDON1156")[27][28] was classified as confidential and "no foreigners", and leaked as part of the Cablegate cache.

Armed with the WikiLeaks revelations, the Chagossians launched an appeal, seeking a judgement that the reserve was unlawfully aimed at preventing them from returning home. Although United States Army soldier Chelsea Manning had been arrested nearly three years previously for the leaks, the UK government felt unable to confirm to the court that the leaked documents were genuine.[29] It was made clear to the court that the government's inability to confirm was for two reasons: firstly, to protect itself from the charge that it created the reserve to prevent the islanders from ever returning home and, secondly, out of a purported fear that the US government might get angry if the cables were acknowledged as genuine.[29] Despite the contents of his cable being known—"a marine park would, in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago's former residents"—Roberts denied, when questioned in court, that there was an "ulterior motive" behind the reserve's establishment.[29] Lord Justice Richards and Mr. Justice Mitting then refused to accept the documents as evidence, declaring that to do so would breach diplomatic privilege. The Guardian described their decision as having "far-reaching consequences" and "a severe setback for the use of material obtained from leaks or whistleblowers".[30] In June 2013, the pair of judges turned down the appeal brought by the Chagossians, ruling that the reserve was compatible with EU law.[23]



It emerged in 2014 that—for three decades, in violation of environmental rules—the American navy had dumped hundreds of tonnes of sewage and waste water into a protected lagoon on Diego Garcia.[31] In response to the revelations, the chair of the Chagos Refugees Group UK Branch, Sabrina Jean, noted:

When we Chagossians lived on our islands, the seas and lagoons were pristine.…For many years we have been pressing BIOT to conduct an environmental audit of the effects of the US occupation. This has been consistently refused, with the explanation that the impact of the occupation is minimal. We can now see that throughout this period there have been no controls on the pollution.[32]

Discourse about the Chagossians

Diplomatic cable from Patrick Wright, Baron Wright of Richmond signed by D. A. Greenhill, dated August 24, 1966, stating "Unfortunately along with the Birds go some few Tarzans or Men Fridays."

The WikiLeaks cables revealed diplomatic cables between the US and UK about the Chagossians.[33] A cable written by D.A. Greenhill on 24 August 1966 to a US State Department official refers to the Chagossians as "some few Tarzans or Man Fridays".[34]

Similar language appears in a 2009 US State Department cable (09LONDON1156), which offered a description of the UK government's views about the effect of the Marine Protection Act:

However, Roberts stated that, according to the HMG's current thinking on a reserve, there would be "no human footprints" or "Man Fridays" on the BIOT's uninhabited islands. He asserted that establishing a marine park would, in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago's former residents.[28]

2012 petition


On 5 March 2012, a petition was launched on We the People section of the whitehouse.gov website in order to ask the White House in the United States to consider the Chagos case.[35]

The petition read as follows:

The U.S. Government Must Redress Wrongs Against the Chagossians For generations, the Chagossians lived on the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. But in the 1960s, the U.S. and U.K. governments expelled the Chagossians from their homes to allow the United States to build a military base on Diego Garcia. Facing social, cultural, and economic despair, the Chagossians now live as a marginalized community in Mauritius and Seychelles and have not been allowed to return home. The recent passing of the oldest member of the exiled population underscores the urgent need to improve the human rights of the Chagossians. We cannot let others die without the opportunity to return home and obtain redress. The United States should provide relief to the Chagossians in the form of resettlement to the outer Chagos islands, employment, and compensation.[36]

On 4 April 2012, the sufficient number of 25,000 signatures was met to require a response from the Office of the President under its policy.[37] An undated response was posted on the White House petition web site by the United States Department of State, in the name of Michael Posner (Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor), Philip Gordon (Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs) and Andrew J. Shapiro (Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs).[38] The response read as follows:

Thank you for your petition regarding the former inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago. The U.S. recognizes the British Indian Ocean Territories, including the Chagos Archipelago, as the sovereign territory of the United Kingdom. The United States appreciates the difficulties intrinsic to the issues raised by the Chagossian community.

In the decades following the resettlement of Chagossians in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the United Kingdom has taken numerous steps to compensate former inhabitants for the hardships they endured, including cash payments and eligibility for British citizenship. The opportunity to become a British citizen has been accepted by approximately 1,000 individuals now living in the United Kingdom. Today, the United States understands that the United Kingdom remains actively engaged with the Chagossian community. Senior officials from the United Kingdom continue to meet with Chagossian leaders; community trips to the Chagos Archipelago are organized and paid for by the United Kingdom; and the United Kingdom provides support for community projects within the United Kingdom and Mauritius, to include a resource center in Mauritius. The United States supports these efforts and the United Kingdom's continued engagement with the Chagossian Community.

Thank you for taking the time to raise this important issue with us.[36]

Indigenous status


The legal definition of the term "indigenous" varies widely by legal system, with classification as an indigenous being based on a variety of factors. The Chagossians are officially recognized as an Indigenous people by many entities including but not limited to the United Nations,[39] Cultural Survival,[40] Human Rights Watch,[41] and Minority Rights Group International.[42] In a memo to the American government, Paul Gore-Booth promised the American government that there would be no indigenous people in the islands except for seagulls - not that the islands had no indigenous people.[43] In a 1970 memo, UK Foreign Office lawyer Anthony Aust emphasized the government's intention to "maintain the fiction that the inhabitants of Chagos are not a permanent or semi-permanent population" and dedicated an entire paragraph to outlining plans for "maintaining the fiction".[41] In 1968 Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart wrote in a secret document that "by any stretch of the English language, there was an indigenous population and the Foreign Office knew it."[44] They are designated as a national minority by the government of Mauritius.[15]

See also


Further reading

  • "The future of the Chagossian people and sovereignty for British Indian Ocean Territory". MercoPress. 9 December 2022. Retrieved 12 August 2023.
  • Evers, Sandra; Kooy, Marry (27 May 2011). Eviction from the Chagos Islands: Displacement and Struggle for Identity Against Two World Powers. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-20441-6.
  • Sands, Philippe (26 September 2023). The Last Colony: A Tale of Exile, Justice, and Courage. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-593-53509-7.
  • Vine, David (23 January 2011). Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-14983-7.
  • Vine, David (25 August 2015). Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World. Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 978-1-62779-170-0.


  1. ^ "UK Supreme Court highlights right of Chagos refugees to return home". New Internationalist. 5 July 2016.
  2. ^ "Chagos Islanders living in Sussex criticise "problematic" flag raising by Mauritius". ITV.com. 14 February 2022.
  3. ^ Sand, Peter H. (10 July 2009). "United States and Britain in Diego Garcia". SpringerLink. doi:10.1057/9780230622968.
  4. ^ a b "June 2012 update | The UK Chagos Support Association". Chagossupport.org.uk. 12 May 2009. Archived from the original on 12 May 2013. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
  5. ^ "Chagos Islanders will not be allowed home, UK government says". BBC News. 16 November 2016. Archived from the original on 24 October 2016. Retrieved 16 November 2016.
  6. ^ House, Manchester International Festival Blackfriars. "MIF21 Creative Fellowships". Manchester International Festival. Archived from the original on 25 May 2022. Retrieved 3 May 2022.
  7. ^ a b Wintour, Patrick (16 November 2016). "Chagos Islanders denied right to return home". The Guardian.
  8. ^ Bowcott, Owen (16 November 2016). "Chagos islanders cannot return home, UK Foreign Office confirms". The Guardian.
  9. ^ a b "Latest developments | Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965 | International Court of Justice". www.icj-cij.org. Retrieved 18 July 2021.
  10. ^ Bragard, Veronique. 'Righting' the Expulsion of Diego Garcia's "Unpeople": The Island Space as Heterotopia in Literary Texts about the Chicago Islands (PDF). UPEI Projects. pp. 57–69. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 April 2019. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  11. ^ Bowcott, Owen (25 February 2019). "UN court rejects UK's claim of sovereignty over Chagos Islands". The Guardian. Guardian News & Media Limited. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  12. ^ van den Berg, Stephanie (25 February 2019). "World Court: Britain must return Indian Ocean islands to Mauritius". Reuters. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  13. ^ a b c d e Vine, David (2009). Island of shame : the secret history of the U.S. military base on Diego Garcia. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691138695.
  14. ^ African Research Group (2000). Health & Mortality in the Chagos Islands (PDF). Research and Analytical Papers. Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  15. ^ a b Alexandre, Caecilia; Koutouki, Konstantia (2018). "No Way Home for the Chagossians: Law and Power Politics". International Journal on Minority and Group Rights. 25 (3): 369–400. ISSN 1385-4879.
  16. ^ "In Pictures: Chagossians' visit". BBC News. 10 April 2006. Retrieved 2 January 2010.
  17. ^ "Recent Case: D.C. Circuit Holds Claims of Harms to Native Inhabitants of the British Indian Ocean Territory Caused by the Construction of a U.S. Military Base Nonjusticiable" (PDF). Harvard Law Review. 120: 860. 2007. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  18. ^ Bancoult v. McNamara, 445 F.3d 427 (D.C. Cir. 2006).
  19. ^ "Court victory for Chagos families". BBC News. 11 May 2006. Retrieved 2 January 2010.
  20. ^ "Foreign Office scraping the bottom of the barrel with Chagos appeal, says solicitor for exiled Chagossians". Black Britain. Colourful Network. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007.
  21. ^ "Judgments - R (On The Application of Bancoult) V Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs". Retrieved 22 October 2008.
  22. ^ "Chagos Islands dispute: UK accused of 'crimes against humanity' by Mauritius". BBC News. 27 December 2019. Retrieved 18 July 2021.
  23. ^ a b Press Association (11 June 2013). "Chagos Islands marine park is compatible with law, high court rules". guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
  24. ^ "Welcome to the Chagos Conservation Trust | Chagos Conservation Trust". Protectchagos.org. Archived from the original on 19 January 2012. Retrieved 21 June 2012.
  25. ^ Rincon, Paul (1 April 2010). "UK sets up Chagos Islands marine reserve". BBC News. Retrieved 12 August 2015.
  26. ^ "leaked US diplomatic cable". Archived from the original on 2 December 2010. Retrieved 1 December 2010.
  27. ^ "Cable Viewer". WikiLeaks.org. 15 May 2009. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
  28. ^ a b Full discussion and copy of WikiLeaks cables - "HMG FLOATS PROPOSAL FOR MARINE RESERVE COVERING THE CHAGOS ARCHIPELAGO (BRITISH INDIAN OCEAN TERRITORY)". The Daily Telegraph. London. 4 February 2011. ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006. Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  29. ^ a b c Richard Norton-Taylor (15 April 2013). "UK refuses to admit US embassy cables obtained by WikiLeaks are genuine". guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
  30. ^ Owen Bowcott (18 April 2013). "Chagossians suffer blow in fight to go home as court rejects WikiLeaks cable". guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
  31. ^ Milmo, Cahal (15 March 2014). "Exclusive: World's most pristine waters are polluted by US Navy human waste". independent.co.uk. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
  32. ^ Jean, Sabrina (14 March 2014). "Chagos Islands saga: Let us Chagossians return home". independent.co.uk. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
  33. ^ Kazerooni, Ibrahim (3 December 2010). "WikiLeaks Cables Reveal Use of Environmentalism by US and UK as Pretext to Keep Natives From Returning to Diego Garcia | Focal Points, the Blog of FPIF". Fpif.org. Retrieved 21 June 2012.
  34. ^ "BBC NEWS - UK - Politics - The Chagos Islands: A sordid tale". 3 November 2000.
  35. ^ Grandison, Claire; Kadaba, Seema Niki; Woo, Andy (2013). "Stealing the Islands of Chagos: Another Forgotten Story of Colonial Injustice". Digital Commons. American University, Washington College of Law: 37–43. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  36. ^ a b "The U.S. Government Must Redress Wrongs Against the Chagossians". Whitehouse.gov. Archived from the original on 23 September 2011. Retrieved 4 April 2012.
  37. ^ Lunn, Jon (20 April 2012). "The Chagos Islanders" (PDF). Parliament (UK): 23. Retrieved 13 April 2019. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  38. ^ Pigrau Solé, Antoni (2016). "El caso de la isla de Diego García: Territorio sin derecho internacional, personas sin derechos" (PDF). Revista Electrónica de Estudios Internacionales (in Spanish) (31). Asociación Española de Profesores de Derecho internacional y Relaciones internacionales: 36. doi:10.17103/reei.31.01. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  39. ^ Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues; the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent; the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of nonrecurrence.
  40. ^ "Chagossians-the original inhabitants of Diego Garcia face U.S. government in the court". Cultural Survival. 8 February 2002. Retrieved 25 November 2023.
  41. ^ a b Baldwin, Clive (15 February 2023). ""That's When the Nightmare Started"". Human Rights Watch.
  42. ^ Submission to the British Parliament from the Minority Rights Group International, 12 October 2007 "Based on its 40 years of working with indigenous communities worldwide, MRG is of the view that the Chagossians do indeed constitute an indigenous people. The UK's duty towards the Chagossians must therefore be upheld in line with the rights of indigenous peoples rights under international law."
  43. ^ Aldrich, Richard (June 2011). "GCHQ: The Uncensored Story of Britain's Most Secret Intelligence Agency". The English Historical Review. CXXVI (520).
  44. ^ New Statesman. Vol. 133. New Statesman, Limited. 2004. p. 22.


  • Wenban-Smith, N. and Carter, M., Chagos: A History, Exploration, Exploitation, Expulsion Published by Chagos Conservation Trust, London (2016), ISBN 978-0-9954596-0-1