Kicked out of their home in paradise to make way for a US military base, the Chagos Islanders are a displaced people longing to return home. SARAH TROTTER speaks to an Abbey Wood Chagossian who is desperate to go home.
AN EXPELLED Chagos Islander says he could die with sadness due to his family’s "poor and stressful" life in the UK.
The collection of 60 tropical islands in the Indian Ocean were home to the Chagossians for more than 150 years before they were turfed off by the British in 1970s to make room for a US bomber base.
A petition with thousands of signatures calling for 700 surviving Chagossians to be allowed home was recently handed to the White House while the European Court of Human Rights is soon due to rule on the issue.
Yvan Ramsamy's family was shoved off their island home and parcelled off to Mauritius where they were extremely poor.
The 46-year-old, who now lives in Abbey wood, moved to England in 2003 in search of a better life with his wife Marie Francesse Monica and four children.
But they have struggled with cultural difficulties and loneliness without friends and family support.
He said: "I will be happy to pass away. In our culture we share, we have our activities, we have the sea and can go fishing.
"I came to England to get a better life - now here, we have a poor life, a lot of stress.
"We don’t have a culture - our culture is destroyed.
"It isn’t a real life. Even in Mauritius I could catch some fish, but here I don’t have anything."
"If you call me next year I might have passed away from sadness."
The father-of-four says it is hard for islanders to mix with British people as their English is poor and his children do not have any friends here.
Mr Ramsamy worked as a cleaner in Lewisham Hospital before back and stress problems stopped him from working.
And since the Government's recent social welfare reforms he says he's being forced to reapply for housing benefit.
He said: "It is hard because if you don’t speak very well you can’t argue."
The family now say they would rather be poor in Mauritius and re-experience their culture than be wealthier and unhappy in the UK.
Mr Ramsamy ended by saying: "I would stay there without food, without work, but I couldn’t do it because we can’t afford to go back."
Foreign Office response
Responding to the issue, a Foreign Office spokesman said: "We are very committed to working with Chagossian groups on areas where we can agree. These include arranging visits to the islands for individual Chagossians, as well as building capacity in the Chagossian communities to work on science, conservation and environmental projects in BIOT.
"We don’t seek to justify all of what was done to those living on the Chagos Islands in the late 1960s and early 1970s. That is why significant compensation was paid in the early 1980s.
"But we cannot put back the clock, and the arguments against allowing resettlement are very clear and compelling. This is not only about our security commitments but also about the very feasibility of re-establishing a settlement on these remote and low-lying islands."