Socialist Worker

‘They stole our homes, then turned us away’

Issue No. 1923

Diego Garcia - an island turned into an airstrip for B-52 bombers to pound the enemies of the US

Diego Garcia - an island turned into an airstrip for B-52 bombers to pound the enemies of the US


THE PEOPLE of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean were forcibly expelled when their island was stolen 35 years ago in order to create a giant air base for US bombers.

Last week they were insulted again when a group of them—all British citizens—tried to come here.

John Pilger’s powerful documentary Stealing A Nation showed how the British government forced 2,000 people off Diego Garcia in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Soon the island was transformed into a huge aircraft carrier, a US base which has been used to launch attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Diego Garcians were forced to move to Mauritius and live in poverty.

Bontemps France, who arrived in Britain last Friday, told Socialist Worker, “Diego Garcia is occupied by the American army. It is a strategic point for them. My father was removed by force from Diego Garcia to Mauritius so they could put this military base there.”

Mary Alexis said, “The British have done a lot of shit things. The US have used our island to make war.”

The British High Court ruled in November 2000 that the expulsion from Diego Garcia was illegal and that they should be allowed to return to the region.

The Foreign Office has refused to allow them to go back. The government issued a royal decree in June this year that forbids the Diego Garcians from ever returning home.

Instead of accepting their exile quietly and in deprivation, a number of Diego Garcians, who are British citizens, have moved to Britain.

That is why 45 arrived at Gatwick airport on Friday of last week. The government insulted them. Tony Blair has said that the Diego Garcians should expect no help from the British authorities.

West Sussex County Council refused to accommodate the Diego Garcians.

The islanders, including old women and children, had to spend the night in the airport.

Only a High Court order forced the council to accommodate them in the nearby town of Horley the next day.

All of the islanders want to return to Diego Garcia, whether they were born there or in exile.

They have come to Britain as a last resort.

Jean Philippe Ramdas said, “We are here to be there. We have been crying for 35 years from Mauritius to go back, but we have not been able to. We want to put more pressure on the British government.”

Community leader Allen Vincatassin said, “We have been living in destitution for 35 years in Mauritius, where people were dumped. There was no support, no houses. There was a high level of unemployment and no money for food.

“The injustice about what happened to us is so evident. People can’t believe that the British government could do such a thing.

“This did not happen in 1810—it is happening today.”

Janet Esparon, who has lived in Britain since March, said, “I was among one of the last groups to leave the island. I was 11.

“My father knew someone in the Seychelles who we stayed with—ten of us in one room.

“We slept on the floor. Then we were kicked out and went to live in a cowshed. We almost starved to death.

“The British government have a responsibility towards us—they took our homeland away.

“The islanders are coming here because there was nowhere else to go. They want to make a living. We have to keep up our fight to go back to Diego Garcia.”

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Features
Wed 13 Oct 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1923
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