Chagos Islanders living in Sussex criticise "problematic" flag raising by Mauritius

  • John Ryall reports on the concerns of Chagossians living in the UK

The UK is in “no doubt” about its sovereignty over the Chagos Islands, the Government has said, after the flag of Mauritius was planted on the archipelago in the Indian Ocean.

The red, blue, yellow and green national flag was placed on the Peros Banhos atoll on Monday by Mauritian officials, who arrived by boat accompanied by Chagos islanders exiled more than 50 years ago.

Originally intended as a scientific survey, Mauritius’ prime minister described the “historic visit” as “the first time Mauritius has led an expedition to this part of its territory”.

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesman said: “The UK has no doubt as to our sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory, which we have held continuously since 1814. Mauritius has never held sovereignty over the territory and the UK does not recognise its claim."

Chagos Islanders in the UK have long been protesting for the right the return their home islands.

According to the Guardian, Mauritian prime minister Pravind Jugnauth recorded a message which was broadcast to the officials and Chagossians who travelled to the atoll to erect the flag.

He told them: “This is the first time Mauritius has led an expedition to this part of its territory. I feel sad that I have not been able to be part of this historic visit.”

But speaking to ITV News Meridian, Chagossians living in the UK have raised concerns that their views have been ignored by the Mauritian government.

A large proportion of the exiled Chagossians live in and around Crawley in West Sussex.

Groups representing Chagossians in the UK have raised concerns about the actions of the Mauritian government.

Rosy Leveque, from the British Indian Overseas Territory Citizens group, said the flag ceremony comes at "a very problematic time," as the community campaigns for the right to British citizenship.

"It's a huge political stunt by the Mauritius government," she said.

"They have not consulted with the Chagossian community as a whole, especially the very large community of Chagossians who live in the UK."

Crawley MP Henry Smith is calling on the government to give Chagossians British citizenship.

Henry Smith, the Conservative MP for Crawley, told ITV Meridian that his Chagossian consituents were "very concerned about Mauritian control."

"In Mauritius, Chagos Islanders have all too often been second class citizens and have therefore been treated very badly," he said.

"They should have a right of return to their homeland...but most importantly the Chagos Island people should be able to decide their own sovereign future."

  • The story of the Chagossians

The Chagos Islands is an archipelago formed of more than 60 islands in the Indian Ocean.

The Islands were historically a part of Mauritius, which had been a British colony since 1814. They sold the Islands to the UK for £3 million in 1965.

The UK evicted Chagossians from the archipelago between 1967 and 1973 so that the US could erect a military base on Diego Garcia, the largest island in the group.

Many of those exiled were resettled in Crawley.

Diego Garcia is the only island still inhabited on the archipelago and it remains a strategically important American military base .

Mauritius later gained independence from the UK and maintains that the islands are its own.

In 2019 the United Nations put pressure on the UK to return the territory, with the General Assembly backing a resolution for the islands to be returned to Mauritius by 116 votes to six.

And in the same year the International Court of Justice, in the Hague, called the UK's take over of the islands "unlawful".

A plaque placed below the flagpole on Peros Banhos is reported to have read: “Visit of the Mauritius delegation to Peros Banhos archipelago, Republic of Mauritius, in the context of the scientific survey of Blenheim Reef.”

The atol was the final island that was cleared during the establishment of the Diego Garcia airbase.

Successive UK governments have expressed regret about the way that Chagossians were removed from BIOT, and the Government has provided a £40m support package to the exiled islanders over a 10-year period.

In 2020, following a ruling by the International Court of Justice, the UK Government said it has “a long-standing commitment, first made in 1965, to cede sovereignty of the territory to Mauritius when it is no longer required for defence purposes”.