A Dispossessed People: the Depopulation of the Chagos Archipelago 1965–1973

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ABSTRACT

On 8 November 1965, the Chagos Archipelago in the central Indian Ocean was detached from the former British colony of Mauritius to create the British Indian Ocean Territory in order to make the islands available for joint UK/US defence purposes. By 1973, all the inhabitants had been removed by the British Government to make way for a US Military Base on one of the islands, Diego Garcia. Although the recorded population of the Chagos in the early 1960s before the formation of the British Indian Ocean Territory did not exceed 1,000 at any one time, the nature of the society and their links to colonial Mauritius masked the true numbers who had been born on and lived in the islands and were entitled to consider themselves native islanders or ‘Ilois’ and whose employment and lifestyle involved a freedom of movement between Mauritius and the Chagos. The size and nature of the Ilois were deliberately manipulated and concealed by British colonial officials in order to avoid scrutiny by the United Nations. By comparing the best available contemporary records and government archives, we conclusively demonstrate that the policy of the British Government drove between 1,328 and 1,522 Ilois into exile and poverty on Mauritius, and a further 232 on the Seychelles. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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