A group of people forced to leave their homes on the island of
Diego Garcia by the British have won permission to mount a High
Court challenge to get the right to housing and benefits in the UK
this week, writes Amy Taylor.
They were moved in 1971 so that the island, which is part of the
Chagos archipelago in the Indian Ocean, could be handed over to the
US for a strategic airbase.
Most of the islanders went to Mauritius, but over the years they
found it difficult to settle there and became impoverished.
Diego Garcians started to arrive in the UK in 2003 and in recent
months many more have arrived in Gatwick in search of a better
life. A number of them have made claims for housing and support
from Crawley, Reigate and West Sussex Councils.
They are UK passport holders and entitled to reside in Britain
but they have been refused access to the benefits system on the
basis that they have not lived in the UK for any length of
The group’s lawyers argued that they were entitled to be
treated “like the Irish”. Citizens of the Republic of
Ireland are entitled to benefits in the UK because of the
historical ties between the two nations.
Lawyers for the government argued that the Diego Garcian’s
had already been compensated for the loss of their islands and that
they were not entitled to special treatment on benefits.
But the judge ruled that the group were entitled to make an
application for judicial review. He said that the rules on benefits
were aimed at those who only had “tenuous connections”
with the UK and might be “benefit tourists”.