Written evidence from BIOT Citizens (NBB0019)
The evidence is submitted in relation to Part 1 - Nationality - Section 7: Citizenship - registration in special cases. Section 4L (a) historical legislative unfairness.
This section applies to the status of the Ilois community and the related UK legislation since Section 6 of the British Overseas Act 2002.
The issue raised with the new legislation is that the Ilois (Chagossian/British Indian Ocean Territories) are not covered by the bill in its present form.
It is suggested that Section 6 of the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 should be revised so that the ‘qualifying years’ of ‘26 April 1969 and before 1 January 1983’ should be discounted as far as the Ilois are concerned. Further special funding and proactive assistance should be provided to the Ilois people in respect of their circumstances and previous mal-treatment by the United Kingdom Government.
This evidence only relates to Section 7 of the bill and does not involve the asylum and refugee issues in other sections.
Further Detail and Evidence
We are British Indian Ocean Territories (BIOT) Citizens, the BIOT People’s Empowerment Social Media Platform. This is a forum which empowers individuals amongst the Ilois community. With more than 650 members in the UK and worldwide, we reach thousands of native born and descendants of the Ilois community and beyond. Our expertise lies not only in testimony and participation but in supporting academic research. This submission is provided after thorough investigation and face to face interviews with the people from the Ilois community, commonly known as ‘Ilois’.
The Ilois situation is not expressly mentioned in the proposed changes to the Nationality and Borders Bill. However, the community anticipates that several laws will indirectly be amended as they have direct links to British Nationality Act, as mentioned in the evidence below.
The Government’s evidence and proposal intend that Section 6 of the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 should be revised so that the ‘qualifying years’ of ‘26 April 1969’ and before ‘1 January 1983’ reflect the changes of the Nationality and Borders Bill.
However, the situation of the Ilois is fundamentally different from that of the “natives” of other inhabited British Overseas Territories because it is not possible for them to be born on the islands of BIOT. There has been an Order in Council since 2004 which bans any Ilois from living on their native land. Because of this Royal Prerogative the Ilois cannot pass on their British Overseas Territory Citizenship to their children who are inescapably being born away from the BIOT. We would therefore suggest that the ‘qualifying years’ be considered non applicable in the case of the Ilois.
The Home Secretary’s proposal to resolve the ‘historical legislative unfairness’ by means of ‘registration in special cases’ is unacceptable to the Ilois community. If each member of the community were considered a “special case”, the time required to process the applications would leave many of the Ilois dead long before receiving citizenship of the United Kingdom.
Section ONE – FINANCIAL UNVIABILITY
We propose therefore that the British Citizenship cost is borne by the British Government in these cases of ‘historical unfairness’ to make proper amends for the discrimination that the Ilois have suffered.
This cost would be more than covered by the £40m support package, allocated by the UK Government in November 2016 to provide Ilois with better life chances in the communities in which they currently reside, the majority living in Mauritius. This support package is aimed at funding projects in five areas: education, health, employment, social care and culture. Only £37,944.37 of this support package has been spent to date.
It must be considered that the exiled Ilois have been left in near abject poverty in the slums of Mauritius. At present the opportunity for an average Ilois to achieve transit to the UK even after receiving correct documentation is very limited. In this or future legislation it must be recognized that all packages of relief or of recompense for their loss have made their way to the Ilois via long and convoluted means, with the result that only close to 5% of the monies allocated have been distributed to the Ilois. An aid package to allow those who wish to relocate to the UK must be created and applied, particularly as this project could be funded using the money already available from the very large undistributed portion of the £40m support package.
What the Bill in its current form needs to take into account is the added costs which the Ilois have had to bear and continue to bear. People of the other thirteen British Overseas Territories can relate to the issues which this Bill is addressing, but they are already living on British soil. The Ilois community in Mauritius or Seychelles are not living on British soil, because neither Mauritius nor the Seychelles are British Overseas Territories. The huge cost of British Citizen registration is increased by the UK Passport application fee (£85 for one adult). The Ilois community are the only British Overseas Territories Citizens (BOTC) who have to bear these additional fees. Not forgetting the cost of airfare for the Ilois to the UK (average cost of £1516) if they actually succeed in getting leave to enter.
Section TWO – TRAUMA AND RIGHTS VIOLATION
There are now new generations of Ilois. Children of those born in the Chagos Archipelago today would have British Citizenship and BOTC. The grandchildren, however, of those born in the Chagos Archipelago do not since British Citizenship is passed on only to the first generation born outside the BIOT. This means many grandchildren born in Mauritius due to their family history of expulsion from their homeland would unfairly not be granted British citizenship.
The psychological trauma and stress this exile has caused and continues to cause for the broken Ilois families and communities in Mauritius, Seychelles and UK is unfathomable. Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles are all suffering a great deal of torment and misery. The psychological damage these families have and are going through cannot just be healed by changes in immigration laws.
Ilois citizens have been enduring the costs of lawyers, solicitors, visa applications and visa extensions due to this unfair legislation. The limited education of Ilois in Mauritius means they have difficulty understanding the application and visa forms. The suffering now grows from uprooting from their homeland to incurring financial debts to pay immigration lawyers. The small savings they were able to make in Mauritius to come to the UK are inadequate to cover the high costs of attempting to gain citizenship, these fees are ‘non-refundable’ and hold no guarantee of success. By the time the paperwork is completed for immigration lawyers, it’s too late and they’re being deported. Many Ilois have already been deported. Now they have lost their homes, their money and their families are divided as a result. The emotional and behavioural distress among the Ilois is putting this community at a serious disadvantage and this Bill is a positive step in fixing this issue.
Some of the Ilois unable to gain citizenship are nearing retirement age. There needs to be a framework put in place to help the Ilois heal from this legislative unfairness. There should be plans to help with integration into UK society, similar to those the British Government has put forward to help refugees and asylum seekers from war-torn countries. Psychological and physiological assessments for the Ilois should be a priority. The British Government’s regrettable expulsion of the Ilois between 1967 and 1973 cannot be erased, but its first step towards redress is with this Bill. Ilois descendants would have been able to gain British citizenship anyway, had they been allowed to live on the Chagos Archipelago.
Section THREE – DEPORTATION OF ILOIS DESCENDENTS IN UK
The number of Ilois descendants who have been deported and continue to face deportation, through no fault of their own, has to be addressed. Young children who are just leaving school who have British citizen parents have already been victims of this historic injustice. It is through no fault of their own that Ilois children are born outside of their parents and grandparents’ BIOT status. The UK Home Office treats them like immigrants, being forced to find the means of paying for lengthy naturalisation processes. Unable to afford the costs of this, which can be as high as £10,000 per individual, families are struggling to keep up with payments. Children of British citizens are being detained and deported, because their families were removed from their homes against their own will.
At present, Ilois living in Seychelles and Mauritius do not have the English language comprehension to read, understand and fill out the intimidating forms for Immigration. Ilois descendants should not have to be driven to deportation because of the anomalies of the British legislative system. Ilois citizens should have had rights as British Overseas Territories Citizens, but now are having their citizenship stripped away, due to a fault of the uncaring home affairs committee. A difference in years of birth, unmarried parents or deaths of the Ilois parents do not justify the separation of families. This is what the Bill needs to consider.
The forced parental and familial deportations of this community have profound permanent impacts. The risks of mental health problems as a result can already be seen in the Ilois communities. Anxiety, depression, suicide, violence, drug addition, school failure, unemployment, organised and disorganised crime, just to name a few. The uncertainty of knowing at any time the Home Office could detain and deport mothers, fathers and children for unreasonable reasons, is unacceptable.
Section FOUR - SOCIAL ISSUES FOR ILOIS DESCENDENTS
Social issues have been present in the Ilois community since their displacement in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Migrating from Mauritius to the UK without a support network of immediate family and extended family units causes an immense sense of loss in the Ilois community. Descendants of the Ilois deserve the right to work in the UK and to have good schooling. The number of Ilois in the UK denied the right to work is causing growing tension and stress. Pending Home Office statuses means families cannot support their families in Mauritius, Seychelles and UK. Members of families are banned from working and other members of the family have to become the sole breadwinner. This Bill needs to ensure Ilois families can continue living their lives safely and securely.
One of the consequences of this unfair historical legislation is the growing number of young Ilois citizens left in isolation in Mauritius and Seychelles, ripped from their social bubble. Without opportunity to improve their financial and social situation, they are regularly prey to addiction and the inimical drugs trade of Mauritius’ lower social classes. The widespread corruption of state institutions, criminal justice and lack of security infrastructure continues to fail the descendants of BIOT who are unable to claim their rightful British citizenships.
Section FIVE – EXEMPLARY CASE OF SUCCESS IN GOVERNING BODIES’ ACKNOWLEDGING THEIR HISTORICAL LEGISLATIVE UNFAIRNESS:
An example can be seen in Germany lifting its citizenship restrictions for descendants of Nazi victims. The German Parliament voted in favour of a Bill eliminating all restrictions which denied descendants of German Jews and others who were persecuted by the Nazis the right to German citizenship. The current UK government and its predecessors have always shown sincere regret about the manner in which the Ilois were removed from the British Indian Ocean Territory in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The British Government can take examples from Germany and make right the forceful deportation of the Ilois by granting citizenship to descendants of Chagos Archipelago inhabitants and to descendants born out of wedlock. They deserve to have their citizenship restored. The importance here is not simply a passport or a piece of paper. The importance is the recognition that a wrong has been done not just to natives of Chagos, but to their children, descendants and family members. This needs to be acknowledged and corrected by the law.
We back the Nationality and Borders Bill and look forward to its implementation with the amendments proposed.
BIOT Citizens (descendants of Ilois Chagossians)