New Clause 4 - Minimum Income Requirement: Family members of British citizens with a connection to British Indian Ocean Territory

Part of Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 4 November 2021.

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Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office) 12:30, 4 November 2021

I will speak to new clause 15, which is grouped with new clause 4. I fully endorse what the spokesperson for the SNP said.

New clause 15 seeks to rectify a long-standing issue in British nationality law that affects a relatively small number of people—the Chagossian people, descendants of the Chagos islanders, who were forcibly removed from the British Indian Ocean Territory in the 1960s. Between 1968 and 1974, the UK forcibly removed thousands of Chagossians from their homelands on the Chagos islands. The removal was done to make way for a US military base on Diego Garcia. The Chagossians were a settled population on the islands. Their origins trace back to 1793. They were removed and deported to Mauritius and the Seychelles, more than 1,600 km away from the Chagos islands, and have faced extreme poverty and discrimination in those places.

Because of the removal, many descendants of the Chagos islanders, despite being the grandchildren of people who were British subjects in the British Indian Ocean Territory, have been denied rights to British citizenship. The British Overseas Territories Act 2002 granted British citizenship to resettled Chagossians born between 1969 and 1982—the children of those born on the British Indian Ocean Territory. However, many Chagossians have still been denied citizenship, including second-generation Chagossians born outside those dates.

The grandchildren of those born on the British Indian Ocean Territory, third-generation Chagossians, do not have rights to British citizenship, as citizenship has not automatically passed to them, even if in some cases they migrated to the UK with their British parents at a very young age. That group therefore often become an undocumented presence in the UK once they reach the age of 18, and are denied access to jobs, housing and healthcare, despite having lived in the UK since a very young age.

The Chagossian community is divided between Mauritius, the Seychelles and the UK. Broken and divided families are therefore a direct consequence of this injustice in British nationality law. For 60 years, the Chagossian people have faced dispersal, poverty and separation. That has severely limited their life chances and damaged the health and wellbeing of generations of people.

The Bill in its current state does not cover the British citizenship and immigration issues that the Chagossian community faces. That is why the Opposition are introducing this new clause and why we wish to raise the issue today. It is worth exploring this unfairness in more detail, and the reasons why legislation has failed to rectify it to date.

Under British nationality law, citizenship is normally passed only to one generation born abroad. However, the situation of the Chagossians is fundamentally different from that of other inhabited British overseas territories, and applying that restriction to the Chagossians is unacceptable. As we know, their parents and grandparents were forcibly removed from their homeland and deported to Mauritius and the Seychelles. Since then, the Chagossian people have been born outside the Chagos archipelago and receive citizenship from Mauritius or the Seychelles, with no recognition of their long-standing ties to British nationality.

It is not possible for the descendants of the Chagos islanders to be born on the islands of the British Indian Ocean Territory due to the Order in Council since 2004, which bans any Chagossian from living on their native land. That is deeply unfair. They have not severed links with their British citizenship voluntarily; they have been excluded by the UK Government. At this point I would like to share the personal experiences of those affected by that injustice. Like many in Committee, I have been contacted by members of the community, and I pay tribute to their campaigning efforts in incredibly distressing and difficult circumstances, including groups such as Chagossian Voices. Pascal Francois is one of those affected. He resides in Mauritius and is Chagossian. He says:

“For years we have suffered from the separation of our families, through no fault of our own. We are as British as you and the next person. We wish to be known as British, we belong to the UK & her territories. The Chagossian people in exile no longer want to live in the shadows of others. We want to belong and be British by descent.”

The battle for Chagossians’ rights has been raging for decades, and this group of people have been badly let down by the UK. Most Chagossian families, already financially impacted by their enforced exile, are paying—and have paid for many years—huge and increasing visa, immigration and citizenship fees, health surcharges and legal expenses for spouses and children with pending or rejected applications. This process has significantly damaged their health, wellbeing and livelihoods. It has caused immense stress. There is understandable frustration at the lack of support from the Home Office.

Many face the threat of deportation, including young people who have lived in the UK for most of their lives and whose parents are British citizens. Ordinarily, they would have British citizen rights, but because of their exile they have been denied their rights. This injustice in British nationality law has lasted for more than half a century. We believe it requires special attention and cross-party support.

New clause 15 aims to highlight this injustice. It would allow anyone who is descended from a person born before 1983 on the British Indian Ocean Territory to register as a British overseas territories citizen. In turn, they may also register as a British citizen. Both applications would be free of charge.

Despite our deep concerns about other measures in the Bill, it provides an opportunity for the UK to end this injustice for the descendants of the Chagos islanders and rectify a long-standing anomaly in British nationality law. I hope this opportunity is taken.