- Title: MAURITIUS/UK: Exiled Chagossians eagerly await court ruling over their homeland
- Date: 4th April 2007
- Summary: MARI RITA (BANCOULT'S MOTHER) WALKING DOWN STREET RITA WALKING THROUGH GATE TO HER HOUSE RITA SITTING ON STEP PICKING THROUGH RICE RITA'S HANDS PICKING OUT RICE FROM A METAL BOWL RITA MORE OF RITA PICKING OUT RICE (SOUNDBITE) (Creole) MARI RITA SAYING: "When I heard that we could not go back to Chagos, it was like getting a knife in the heart. We knew we would be miserable in Mauritius." RITA'S HAND PICKING OUT RICE (SOUNDBITE) (Creole) MARI RITA SAYING: "When I get back to my country, Chagos, I will kiss the soil." RITA SITTING
- Embargoed: 19th April 2007 13:00
- Topics: International Relations,Defence / Military
- Reuters ID: LVAMQ1VP1RBRPWGG0KPSLZER65X
- Story Text: Around 2,000 Chagossians were exiled from the coral islands which lie halfway between Africa and Indonesia and moved hundreds of miles away on Mauritius and the Seychelles.
The islanders, who mostly arrived as slaves from Africa in the 18th century, have been forbidden from returning on the grounds that their presence would threaten the security of the American military base on Diego Garcia, one of the islands.
Living among the mango trees, barking dogs, and occasional burnt out car in a suburb in Mauritius, Mari Rita Issu, 81, is forced to survive on her memories of eating well, and enjoyed life while living on the Island.
In 1968, her mother had come to Mauritius to get medical treatment for her sister. But when they tried to return, they were told their islands had been sold.
"It was like getting a knife in the heart," she said. "We knew we would be miserable in Mauritius."
Chagossians in Mauritius live mostly in some of the rougher suburbs amongst crime, poverty, and psychological scarring. Two of Rita's twelve children have died from drugs.
Mari is confident that one day she will go back.
Her son, Olivier Bancoult, who heads the Chagos Refugees Group, says they have a resettlement plan, technical support from ecologists and sociologists, and offers of support from non-governmental organisations.
"Oh life in Mauritius was very, very difficult. Huge poverty, faced with many problems because as you know we have been dumped in the slums of Port Louis faced with many problems like drugs, alcohol, jobless, prostitution, bad education."
After a long legal battle, London's High Court ruled last May that Britain's treatment of the islanders had been "repugnant" and that special measures taken to block their return were unlawful.
The British government is challenging that ruling in the Court of Appeal and a judgement is expected in the coming weeks.
But if the Chagossians are fighting for their homeland, then the British and American governments are fighting for a strategic base on one of the islands, Diego Garcia.
Bashir Khan, representing the Chagos Refugees Group in Britain, believes Britain's refusal to give up and its legal delays are part of a strategy.
More and more elderly first generation Chagossians are dying and he wonders how many Chagossians who remember the islands will still be alive in five or ten years' time.
"This struggle, especially even the court case seems to be dragging on and on and on," Khan said.
"They just simply don't want to give up and repair and make up for the injustices that has been done by the British, by our government some forty odd years ago. The consequences of that is that more and more elderly, first generation Chagossians are dying, especially in Mauritius," he added.
Like immigrants all over the world, second generation Chagossian immigrants may be torn between settling in their new country or returning to their parents' homeland, he says.
Ritiane Medor, 41, is a Chagossian woman whose parents never saw each other again after they were separated as Chagossians were exiled from their Island. Her father was expelled to the Seychelles and her mother to Mauritius.
"When we lived in Mauritius, my mother was not happy at all. There was a lot of poverty in Pointe Aux Sables, When I was 11, I had to work in a house at Rose Hill," she said.
Medor says she hopes for a positive outcome from the court case and would like to return to the Chagos Islands.
"We can go back to Chagos, when everything is in place - schools, houses, hospitals - everything that our children need," she said.
Britain claimed the Chagos Islands when it took Mauritius in 1814 and then leased Diego Garcia to the United States in 1966, when Washington was seeking a military base in the Indian Ocean.
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