Chagossians (often referred to as Ilois) were the indigenous people of Diego Garcia Island in the Indian Ocean. From 1965 to 1973 the U.S. government put them on the overcrowded boats and shipped them off to Mauritius. The island of Diego Garcia was completely emptied of all the local peoples. According to the U.S. senior Foreign Office member at the time: ”We must surely be very tough about this. The object of the exercise is to get some rocks which will remain ours…There will be no indigenous population except seagulls.”
Traditionally, Chagossians practiced subsistence agriculture. Currently, they are penniless, poor, and without a home. Numbering some 3000 to 4000 Chagossians, they currently live on the island of Mauritius. There are approximately 500 Chagossian survivors of the more than 1.500 original evictees right now. Many of them recount their experiences as they were forced out of their homes from 1965 to 1973 in order to accommodate the new U.S. military base. Essentially, the relocation was carried out in three stages. First, Chagossians that were away at the time were not allowed back on the island. In the second stage, British government cut off all the flow of goods and in the third stage all the remaining Chagossians were simply forced onto the ships and taken to either Seychelles or Mauritius.
Following a victory in the British courts some 15 months ago, Chagossians are currently suing the U.S. government for the damage and the right to return to their homeland. Three lead plaintiffs in this case, Olivier Bancoult, Marie Therese Mein, and Marie Isabelle France-Charlot blame the U.S. government for the forced relocation.
In 1965, Britain leased Diego Garcia and other islands of Chagos archipelago to the U.S. government for 50 years. The class action filed in mid-December, charges the U.S. government and many other individual members at the Pentagon, including current Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who served in the post at the time, “with trespass, intentional infliction of emotional distress, forced relocation, racial discrimination, torture, and genocide.”
Both the U.S. and British government claim to their knowledge that the only islands’ inhabitants at the time consisted entirely of seasonal contract workers from Mauritius and Seychelles, which under international law would not make Chagossians to be the permanent residents of the island.
The U.S. government is facing tough accusations. Diego Garcia is a crucial political and military point in Asia, especially right now, as it allows the U.S. military monitor and control the situation in Afghanistan.