No return for the islanders of Diego Garcia: The Cold War may have ended, but there is no peace dividend for the Ilois forced from their home. Richard Dowden and George Bennett consider their plight

SHORTLY after the Gulf war, a senior British diplomat suggested to a British journalist that he should visit Diego Garcia, the Indian Ocean island owned by Britain and loaned to the United States as an airbase. He said that now the Cold War was over and because the island had proved so important in the Gulf war, he was sure Washington would have no objection to a visit and some publicity; the base had preserved the aquatic wildlife so well that it would be worth an article.

The US was duly asked by the British government if such a visit could take place. The Pentagon said no.

The island comes under British sovereignty and has a token British police unit and some customs officials. It is clear, however, that Britain has little say in what happens on Diego Garcia. Britain agreed to cede the islands to Mauritius 'when no longer needed for defence purposes'. That may be some time. In 1990, a US Air Force white paper on US military power in the 21st century said that the entire globe could be covered by bombers flying from three secure bases: one in the US, and the others in the US Pacific territory of Guam and in Diego Garcia.

The island, which is the only US nuclear base in the Indian Ocean, was the refuelling and rearming point for B52s bombing Iraq during the Gulf war. A horseshoe-shaped atoll, part of the Chagos archipelago, it has a long runway and a naval dockyard.

In 1966 Britain paid pounds 3m to Mauritius for the Chagos islands, which became part of the British Indian Ocean Territory. A United Nations resolution of 1965, which asked Britain not to dismember Mauritius before independence, was ignored and the agreement which gave the island for no payment to the US for 50 years was signed the following year. At that time there were 1,800 islanders, known as the Ilois, who were descended from a mixed Tamil, Malagasy and African community established by the French in the 18th century. They made a living from fishing and growing coconuts but were steadily moved to Mauritius.

In 1971, the last 800 were forcibly taken to Mauritius and have since lived in the slums of Port Louis, the capital. In the 1970s, many Ilois families were suffering from poverty and malnutrition. Adverse publicity forced Britain to increase the original pounds 650,000 resettlement grant to pounds 4m, but it was a 'full and final settlement' granted in return for a promise from the Ilois families never to return to the islands.

Mauritius has constantly asked for the return of the island but it is unclear whether it would allow the return of the Ilois. The resettlement money is administered by Mauritius, and lawyers acting for the Ilois have difficulty in gaining access to the statutes of the trust fund.

Today many of the Ilois, who number about 4,000, have integrated into Mauritian society and their children are getting an education unavailable to their parents. But the older generation has not given up the dream of returning to the homeland, although they know the copra industry is no longer viable. Sylvio Michel of the Comite Ilois Organisation Fraternelle says they would at least like to be allowed to tend the graves of their ancestors. The part of the islands where they once lived is not used by the US and has become a wilderness.

The US, the leasor, can claim it has no responsibility for the islanders but it is clear that even if the British wanted to allow them to return, Washington would not agree.

(Map omitted)

News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
News
Lane Del Rey performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people... but none of them helped me get a record deal, insists Lana Del Rey
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Portfolio Analyst/ PMO

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Systems Analyst (Technical, UML, UI)

£30000 - £40000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Cost Reporting-MI Packs-Edinburgh-Bank-£350/day

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Cost Reporting Manager - MI Packs -...

Senior Private Client Solicitor - Gloucestershire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - We are makin...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn