Council fears it will foot the bill as a row over a small Indian Ocean island continues

West Sussex social service department may not have expected to
become embroiled in a dispute involving 300 years of colonial
history, a military base used to attack Afghanistan and
international human rights law of boggling complexity, but it has,
writes Lindsay Clark.

According to the council, the government still has to resolve a
dispute over who should pay for social support to British citizens
originally from the Indian Ocean islands of Diego Garcia. With
around 90 more migrants expected this month, the council fears it
could be left with a budget hole or £500,000 or have to make
cuts in other services.

Although the Changossians, originally from Diego Garcia, have
British citizenship, they cannot claim benefits in the UK until
they are considered habitual residents in the UK a process the
council claims takes around six months, and most have arrived
without jobs or means of support. Since 2002, around 100
Changossians have arrived in West Sussex, most without jobs or
means of support. The High Court has twice ruled that the council
must provide basic care, a council spokesperson said.

However, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister maintains
Changossians expected to arrive at Gatwick this week should be able
to support themselves and the council only has a duty to help those
with special care needs.

Council leader Henry Smith said a recent meeting between
government officials and the council was encouraging. “Some
progress was made on minor issues, but we still have a long way to
go. We will continue to press the government and argue our case
because we do not believe it is fair for West Sussex taxpayers to
be picking up the bill for a problem that was ultimately caused by
central government.”

A spokesperson for the council said it had housed arrivals in
hotels or B&B accommodation and provided around £30
allowance a week. “We want to find out how many are coming
and when so we can be more prepared; their age and care needs so we
can prepare care we may need to offer.

“We have pressed the government to fast track benefits but
there has not been a clear solution. No further meeting has been
scheduled but hoping to continue discussion with

Diego Garcia once had a native population of around 2,000
inhabitants who were the descendents of colonial slaves. These
Chagossians were forced to relocate from 1967 to 1973 so that the
island could be turned into a US military base, recently used to
launch attacks by B-52 bombers on Afghanistan and Iraq. Any rights
they may have had as island natives were ignored because the
administration had classified most inhabitants as itinerant
workers, despite birth and death records to the contrary. Many now
live in poverty in Mauritius, while a smaller number live in
similar conditions in the Seychelles, according to campaign

In 2000, a British court ruled that the order to evacuate Diego
Garcia’s inhabitants was invalid, but the court also upheld the
island’s military status, which permits only personnel authorised
by the military to inhabit the island.

Phil Shiner, solicitor with Public Interest Lawyers representing
the Chagossians, said: “They are entitled to income support
providing they pass a habitual residents test. This could take a
week and need not take as long as six months. The fact is they are
here to stay. They have concluded there is nothing more for them on
Mauritius and they want to come here.

“If the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had any sense of
decency it would take care of this.”

Campaign groups are expected to continue to fight for
Chagossians to be repatriated via a challenge to the UK
government’s decision in the European Court of Human

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