Magazine article New Internationalist

Empire's Exiles

Magazine article New Internationalist

Empire's Exiles

Article excerpt

'Never heard of it,' well-informed people from all over the world used to say when I asked them if they knew about Diego Garcia. Some even asked, 'Who's he?' And when I embarked on telling them how the British and US governments in the late 19605 forcibly removed the 2,000 inhabitants of the islands of Diego Garcia in a genocidal mass kidnapping in order to install an exponentially expanding military base, then people just used to look at me as though, having thought up to that point that I was perfectly nice, it was now dawning on them that I was in fact stone mad.

If such things were true, they thought, how could they possibly not have known about them? Such was the success of the conspiracy to hide the operation. People worldwide didn't know.

How did they find out? Some may have heard that 6-525 were taking off from there to bomb Afganistan or Iraq. But it didn't mean much to them.

Then a judgement of the High Court in London in 2000 hit the front pages of British newspapers. Once the 30-year censorship of the British Official secrets Act expired and the official papers that prove the whole murky deal became available, the Mauritians from Diego Garcia and therestoftheChagos Archipelago could put in a legal challenge about their forcible removal from their native islands. The judges exposed a hideous plot where 'the British authorities [were concerned] to present to the outside world a scenario in which there were no permanent inhabitants on the Archipelago" and followed a policy of what one memo at the time described as 'quiet disregard - in other words let's forget about this one until the United Nations challenges us on it". And the people won the right to return.

But the Blair Government promptly issued two Queen's Orders in Council' to override the judiciary. Earlier this year, judges threw out the Queen's decrees and the right to return was won again.

The people of Diego Garcia and Chagos hadn't just been sitting around waiting all those years. They never stopped struggling. To get back to their islands. To reunite the country. To get the military base that was the cause of all the problems closed down. And it was the women especially who acted. 'Two of my children died of sadness when we were left stranded here,' Marie-Magdalene told me, 'and my heart has been left heavy because I couldn't tend my grandmother's grave on Diego Garcia. …

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