Written evidence from Chagossian Voices (NBB0056)
Answer to the question:
Do these reforms adequately address any remaining areas of unjustified discrimination in British nationality law?
We would like clearer guarantees for the Chagossian community, which remains divided, traumatised and impoverished by its experiences resulting from their enforced exile by the UK Government. This could come as an amendment (we are discussing this with our MP and a lawyer) or as guarantees from government as to how this Bill will be applied to the benefit of the Chagossians.
We believe that all native born Chagossians and their direct descendants should be guaranteed a simple and cheap access to UK citizenship. Citizenship should not depend on the gender or marital status of the Chagossian ancestor. Spouses of Chagossians should not need to qualify in terms of income or the Life in the UK test. Chagossians need support, in order to adapt, integrate and succeed in the UK.
With this guarantee, Chagossians would be able to flourish in UK society both as individuals and as a community. They would be released from the financial burdens and stress of immigration requirements and fees. Undocumented Chagossians would be able to work, get educated, marry and fully participate in society. Family life would be restored and the vibrant character and culture of Chagossians would be a fully functioning part of UK society.
1. Why are Chagossians British citizens?
(i) The Chagossians are the exiled citizens of a British Overseas Territory and their descendants.
(ii) Unlike other BOT citizens, the Chagossians were all forcibly removed from their islands by the UK government and were moved to foreign territories without consent or consultation.
(iii) They have been forbidden to return to their islands and until 2002 were forced to raise families outside Crown territories against their will.
(iv) They are British citizens who have been denied their rights of abode on their territory, their rights to raise a family there, and denied any right to self-determination for themselves or their islands.
(v) As BOT citizens both first and second generation Chagossians are entitled to UK citizenship and right of abode. For many this has not been the case. In addition, since they were forced from their UK territory to countries outside the Queen’s dominions, we believe ALL generations of Chagossians should be provided with a simple and cheap pathway to UK citizenship to compensate a substantial breach of their citizenship rights by the UK government. Chagossians are in the unique position of having been removed, without their consent and by their own government, not only from their own territory but placed outside Crown territories altogether. Furthermore, they were forbidden from returning to their islands and were unable to reside in the UK until 2002.
(vi) A further justification for the granting of citizenship to all generations is in the Chagossians’ right to a family life (UK Human Rights act 1998) as the arbitrary application of enforced exile and unfair immigration law has severely damaged Chagossian families
(vii) Further justification for the granting of UK citizenship to all Chagossians can be found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which the UK is a signatory. Article 15 declares that “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.” Article 27 defends the right to cultural expression and participation. The exile, dispersal and separation of the Chagossians and the fragmentation of their community has profoundly damaged their culture, their wellbeing and collective identity.
2. What are the problems with the current citizenship/immigration status of Chagossians?
(i) Only native born Chagossians with incontestable documentation and 2nd generation Chagossians (their children) born between 1969 and 1985 have had a relatively straightforward pathway to UK citizenship.
(ii) 2nd generation (their children) born outside these dates have often been denied citizenship, despite being entitled to UK citizenship
(iii) 3rd generation – many of whom have been in the UK since early childhood – often become an undocumented presence in the UK once they reach the age of 18. Family life, as well as the freedoms and potential of the undocumented Chagossian are profoundly damaged if a Chagossian becomes an undocumented resident. (We have case studies to support this)
(iv) Most Chagossian families are paying huge visa, immigration, citizenship and legal expenses for spouses and children, limiting their lives and damaging their health and wellbeing. (We have case studies to support this)
(v) Most Chagossian families are divided or have been fractured over time due to the varied immigration status of family members. This is damaging to the health and wellbeing of family members. (We have case studies to support this)
(vi) The expensive, complicated and constantly changing pathways to citizenship have resulted in ‘chain’ migration with a Chagossian family taking as many as 10 years to fully migrate to the UK. Some never complete and remain divided. (Case studies available)
(vii) Many spouses of Chagossians do not qualify for permanent residence on grounds of income, further dividing families. Since spouses of Chagossians are often the partner in a long-established family, the family division created by this requirement is inhumane. Chagossian family members were living most of their lives in enforced exile and consequently also struggle with the ‘Life in the UK’ test. This should be waived in the case of Chagossians. (Case studies available)
(viii) Chagossians have had citizenship denied for the following reasons:
· Native born parents were unmarried or had incomplete documentation. However, no permanent civil or religious registration existed on the islands and the gender imbalance and mobile workforce on the islands meant that traditional nuclear families were rare. Rejection on this basis is unacceptable.
· Citizenship has been sometimes declined due to the gender of native ancestor · Often applications are rejected due to error or ignorance at the passport or Home Office · Initial rejection was also made in the past due to the well-known ‘Hostile environment’ policy at the Home office, which also affected many of the Windrush generation.
(ix) The rules and regulations related to immigration and right of abode have changed frequently since 2002, adding further stress and confusion for families
Summary of damaging effects on Chagossians of the current immigration policy
Ongoing financial pressure, debt and high interest loans; poverty and resulting poor physical and mental health; stress through displacement, loss and separation; undocumented Chagossians cannot work or claim benefits and become marginalized and isolated as well as creating a burden for other family members. Chagossians find it difficult to progress in society lacking opportunities to develop financial and social capital. Families are divided across continents.
Most Chagossians in the UK live in a state of financial and emotional precarity.
Chagossian Voices is a grassroots Chagossian community platform which promotes the varied voices of the Chagossian community through conferences, webinars and direct communication with official bodies and the general public.
We do not believe the Bill adequately addresses the needs of the Chagossian Community and hope that there will be an amendment which guarantees that:
WE HAVE CASE STUDIES TO SUPPORT ALL THE ABOVE WHICH WE WILL SUBMIT ON MONDAY 20th SEPT AND TO SUPPORT ANY AMENDMENT
Chagossians in Mauritius
Chagossians encountered numerous problems by being relocated to Mauritius by the UK Government, which to most was an unfamiliar and distant territory with a way of life very different to their own.
Mauritius is a majority Hindu country with 60% of the population of South Asian origin. The Chagossians are mainly of Afro-Creole origin and Christian (mainly Roman Catholic). Most Chagossians experienced structural and personal discrimination due to their race, origins, appearance, accent and ethnicity throughout their time in Mauritius, putting them on the margins of society economically and socially.
Chagossians arrived from a plantation, pre-money pre-industrial economy with a skill set which did not match the employment market in Mauritius. They also arrived in Mauritius at a time of very high unemployment and without formal education. There was no provision for their integration or training provided for them to adapt to Mauritian society. The money allocated by the UK for their support was withheld by the Mauritian government until 1978 and allocated haphazardly and unfairly.
Chagossians were dumped on the quayside in Port Louis. They had no homes, no social or support network and no money. Many Chagossians remained marginalised and in poverty throughout their time in Mauritius
Many Chagossians have suffered extreme trauma through this enforced displacement, separation from their homes and homeland and many families were divided and damaged. This trauma remains with individuals and families.
Chagossians in the Seychelles
Some Chagossians were deposited in the Seychelles without their consent. They have never benefited from any of the compensations paid by the UK government, as these were administered by the Mauritian government.
Chagossians in the UK
Despite being British Overseas Territories citizens, Chagossians were unable to reside in the UK until the 2002 British Territories Act was passed. As the only BOT citizens banned from their own territory, most Chagossians saw right of abode in the UK as their absolute right and something which should have been granted at the time of enforced exile. However, the migration of Chagossians and their families to the UK was not assisted in any way by the UK government. The Chagossians financed every aspect of their migration and settlement in the UK, themselves and were not offered any integration or welcome package by the UK government. They were left entirely to fend for themselves. Their time in the UK has been marked by the following:
Due to the expense of migrating to the UK, families have come in stages, sometimes over many years. Due to the complexity of immigration legislation some family members have been unable to come to the UK or have had to go back. Families remain divided since exile and the community and individuals are living under enormous stresses.
Most Chagossian families, already rendered destitute from their lives in Mauritius, have to spend thousands of pounds on travel, legal fees, visas, health charges. This leaves many of the community in debt and without the appropriate documentation.
The last 15 years have seen constant changes in rules and laws concerning immigration to the UK. There have been dramatic changes to earning thresholds, requirements to take a test (Life in the UK), huge rises in registration and application fees for visas and a menacing tightening of the system, now identified as the ‘hostile environment’.
In addition the Chagossians have been misled by the UK Government over the possibility of returning to their islands. For a number of years, the prospect of return to the islands was presented to the community as a possibility and a feasibility study was undertaken by KPMG on behalf of the government (2015). Despite the report’s finding, this option was finally closed by the government in September 2016.
Since no support or integration programme was set up for Chagossians, many have had problems navigating the systems and opportunities of their new homeland. Many Chagossians struggle with English and the community have had to fight to be properly noticed and supported.
The Chagossian community is at a crisis point. Community members have become overloaded with losses, changes, challenges, burdens and life events – all created by government decisions in which they have had no say or choice. Enforced exile has created a sense of loss and alienation; broken families have created misery and despair; they have been worn down by discrimination and unfairness. Families are destroyed financially and emotionally by a system which heartlessly rejects them and repeatedly takes money from families who just want to be REUNITED.
There is an increasing number of undocumented Chagossians in the UK. The causes are usually either the cost of the documentation or constant and inexplicable rejection by authorities. These are mainly:
Undocumented individuals cannot progress with their lives and create multiple problems for themselves and their families. They can fall prey to despair, even substance abuse and crime.