A group of people forced by Britain to leave their homes on the
island of Diego Garcia have won permission to mount a High Court
challenge for the right to housing and benefits in the UK.
The group 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 use as 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 landed at 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.
However, despite being UK passport holders and entitled to British
residency, they have been refused access to the benefits system on
the basis that they have not lived in the UK for six months.
The group’s lawyers argued that they should be treated like Irish
citizens, who are entitled to benefits in the UK because of the
historical ties between the two nations.
But lawyers for the government argued that the Diego Garcians had
already been compensated for the loss of their islands and were not
entitled to special treatment in relation to benefits.
However, Mr Justice Newman ruled that the group was entitled to
make an application for judicial review, adding that the rules
denying benefits to those who had not lived in the UK for at least
six months were aimed at those who had only “tenuous connections”
with the UK and might be “benefit tourists”.
Failure to treat the group the same as Irish citizens could give
rise to claims of race discrimination, he warned.