The US and UK stole our homes. 50 years on, we’re still being denied justice

Olivier Bancoult

US military personnel live in my birthplace, the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, but I am not allowed to. Since I was four years old, my people, the Chagossians, have lived in impoverished exile, while the US military has been enjoying the fruits of my homeland.

The plight of my people has been ignored for more than 50 years. But recently, for the first time, a major human rights organisation, Human Rights Watch, called attention to the “crimes against humanity” committed against my people by both the US and British governments. And for the first time, the US government has finally admitted that “the manner in which” we were removed “is regrettable”.

Between 1968 and 1973, the US and British governments forcibly removed us from our homeland during construction of the US military base on Diego Garcia, the largest island in our Chagos Archipelago, which Britain has controlled since 1815. The two governments took our houses, our jobs, almost all our possessions, and the land of our ancestors, leaving us with nothing.

As the leader of the Chagos Refugees Group, I have spoken to people around the world, asking them to support our struggle to return home and to be compensated for our loss. In May, we will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the last deportation from Chagos. The new report and the slight change in tone from the US government may help create the momentum we need. Later this year, I am planning to visit Washington, DC and New York City to speak with members of Congress, the Biden administration, and other Americans to ask for their support….