Sajid Javid’s High Court win proves the UK’s hostile environment is still ‘wrecking lives’

Sajid Javid
Tracy Keeling

Sajid Javid’s department has won a citizenship case in the High Court. This proves that the UK’s hostile environment is still very much alive and kicking – despite Javid, the new home secretary, making quite the display of disowning the term used by Theresa May when she held his position.

Deeds not words are important, Javid. Deeds not words.

Betrayal No. 1

Dominique Elysee took the UK government to the High Court on 17 July. He is a second-generation Chagossian who is fighting for British citizenship. He is the only one of his siblings not to have it, due to “arbitrary” rules the UK applies to this community. But the High Court ruled in the government’s favour:

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In the 1960s and 1970s, the UK expelled Chagos islanders from their home so it could lease it to the US as a military base. More than 2,000 people inhabited the island, a British colony, before the expulsion.

The UK initially forced out most residents to nearby Mauritius. Elysee’s mother found out that she and her family were refugees when the British refused her re-entry to Chagos after she’d spent time on the neighbouring island while her children were sick in the hospital there.

The UK’s reported treatment of its colony’s residents was appalling. It poisoned, beat to death, and gassed many of their dogs to scare them into submission. And it compensated them for the theft of their country with a measly £3,000. The UK also “tricked” Chagossians into signing away their right to return in exchange for the insulting compensation.

Betrayal No. 2

But as the Chagos Islands were a British colony – and now a British Overseas Territory (BOT) – residents born on the islands were eligible for British citizenship. So a number of them settled in the UK.

The UK, however, only grants citizenship to their descendants if the children were born in exile between 26 April 1969 and 1 January 1983. If anyone doesn’t fit that criteria, like Elysee, the UK is effectively trying to keep them in exile permanently.

Elysee brought the court case to challenge this. He explained to BuzzFeed why gaining citizenship is so important:

In September I’ll have been here six years. I get support from family but I can’t work. I can’t drive, I don’t have ID, I don’t have a bank account. I can’t do anything. It’s very hard.

But Elysee is by no means the only Chagossian battling for citizenship in the UK – a fight that often costs more than £10,000. As Tom Guha, chair of the UK Chagos Support Association, told BuzzFeed:

Dominque’s case is symptomatic of decades of government failure to understand the needs and unique circumstances of the Chagossian people. It demonstrates how the government’s hostile environment policy continues to wreck lives.

The Home Office, for example, deported Hanley Goolamsing to Mauritius in December 2016. He’s a third-generation Chagossian whose entire family lives in the UK. But the Home Office bundled him onto a plane regardless.

Reparation

What the UK has forced the Chagossians to endure is inexcusable. After stealing their nation, the least it should be doing is providing them a place to call home. Instead, it’s leaving many of them high and dry.

Unfortunately, the High Court backed the government in Elysee’s case. But Javid does still have the opportunity to show he has some common decency. Because Henry Smith – the Conservative MP for Crawley, where many UK-based Chagossians live – is calling on Javid to amend legislation to allow UK citizenship for all Chagossians.

Javid is reportedly on course to throw the community a ‘lifeline’. If he doesn’t, we’ll know one thing. He’s truly no better than his ‘hostile’ predecessors, despite all his big talk.

Get Involved!

Sign the petition calling for all Chagossians to get British nationality.

Join the movement fighting for the rights of the Chagossian people.

Featured image via FCO – Wikimedia

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