Local government Council absolved of duty to islanders

West Sussex Council has been cleared of any responsibility to
support a group of people from Diego Garcia.

A High Court judge ruled the council was not obliged to financially
support the islanders – all of whom hold British passports – when
they arrive at Gatwick airport unless an assessment finds they are
unable to work.

He threw out the Diego Garcians’ case and their application for
judicial review, finding that the council had acted correctly in
dealing with the islanders on an individual basis and by not
supporting them as a group.

The 45 Diego Garcians who brought the case to court arrived earlier
this month. A further 45 are expected to arrive this week and a
further 3,000 may follow.

The High Court had previously ordered the council to provide
support and accommodation to about 100 people from the Indian Ocean
island already in the UK. The council was forced to spend
£500,000 of its social services budget doing so.

The islanders were given British passports in the 1970s after their
island was taken over for military use and the inhabitants moved to
Mauritius. But they can only claim state benefits after they have
been in the UK for six months, leaving the local authority to take
responsibility for their care.

A West Sussex Council spokesperson said the earlier group was now
eligible for benefits so the judgement would not affect them but
added that the council would continue to fight for reimbursement
for their care from the government.

In a letter to Crawley MP Laura Moffatt, Tony Blair said the
islanders could work in the UK so the council was not obliged to
support them (news, 5 August, page 13).

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