Chagos: injustice towards the islands

Morgan Fache




Fifty long years.

It’s been fifty long years that the Chagos people have seen their lives changing for good.

So far the Island was under dependency of Mauritius Island, which were an English colony. Chagos Islands became a British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) and were rent right away to the United States in order to become an important military basis.

The agreement between the UK and the US was strong and straight: The Chagos people must leave their islands. And the inhabitants didn’t saw that coming up. The Deportation took place from 1965 to 1973. Since then, no one of the Chagos belongers had the chance to go back to their motherland.

Fifty long years that they have been away from their homes, away from their ancestors, away from their history and away from themselves.

Fifty long years that they are living and surviving, parked in the ghettos of Port-Louis, the capital city of Mauritius Island, considered like « dogs ». They are still fighting though, for their right to come back to their soil. Fifty long years of dreaming of their land, this little archipelago in the Indian Ocean.

Nowadays in Mauritius Island, two different movements are struggling for the right to return back to Chagos. On the first hand there is Olivier Bancoult, head of the Chagos Refugee Group,

while on the other hand it’s Fernand Mandarin, who is in charge of the Chagossians Social Committee. Two different way of dealing with this situation.

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  • Insecurity has increased everywhere on the island. Consequently so have the inequalities. The rich districts have become fortresses. The poor districts have become powder kegs. “In Chagos, we were simply living; there were not as many problems”, a phrase that could be attributed to any Chagossian.

  • We are in the midst of an election period. The country lives according to the rhythm of the multicoloured flags of each party. Since the
    past few years, Mauritian parties no longer have had the right to claim their “ ethnicity”. “ We are too few a people to have a real weight in the ballot boxes... nobody cares and nobody talks about us.” Olivier Bancoult knows that only international justice will be able to help them. Oliver is the symbol of the Chagossians struggle. On the
    one hand he is adulated for his battles and his victories, and on the other hand he is criticized for his cronyism and his power. Olivier is suspicious of journalists and shows it well. He wishes to have control over his public image.

  • She lost her island more than forty years ago, now she lost her family, further denied everyday, further pushed away.

  • Port Louis, the place where the Chagossians arrived.

  • She took the bus from Roche Bois, towards Port Louis, to the hospital. For the past few days
    her great-grandmother has been undergoing treatment . “She has trouble feeding herself but it’s normal because she is 112 years old. It’s normal.” The family can’t afford to hire someone to stay with her, so Marie Charlotte takes this responsibility every day. “If I don’t do it, then who will? It’s normal.”

  • A funeral is expensive, and we don’t have the means to do
    more... and the family is scattered everywhere abroad, many people couldn’t come...” said grandson. The hole will simply be refilled and some flowers will be placed. No gravestone. No cross. No name. Emilienne will rest here. Far from her native country. From the cemetery one cannot see the sea.

  • At 112 years of age, Emilie Louise Codor passed away and rests in her house in Roche Bois, opposite the public dump, from which a thick black smoke continually escapes, covering her home with a thin layer of soot. It carries with it its history and this memory of the Chagos which is extinguished with time, with the years. Far from his island, far from his land, in general indifference.

    For a day and a night his relatives and his family will relay for the funeral vigil. A large part of it can not be there. Families are dislocated, scattered. At the Chagos every island was a family. Emilie Louise Codor left far from his land, far from his family.

  • Anais is 17 years old. She was born in Mauritius. Her mother
    is Chagossian and her father is Mauritian. Her grandmother and her aunt live in England. “Before we lived all together, like a family. Now it’s more complicated.”

  • Batterie Cassée district. Diego Garcia street. The name is taken from the main island of Chagos, the treasure of the Indian Ocean, now an American military base. Chagossians, the part of them that settled here, only have their memories for escape. And a few coconut palms.

  • Petit Frère has been living here for 40 years. His living room is like a kitsch mausoleum, full of religious knickknacks, plastic flowers, multicolored stuffed animals. The emptiness left by the past is filled in artificial way. “In Chagos we didn’t have anything but we had everything to be happy. Here..... here, there is nothing good for us....”

  • In the Chagossian community, everybody knows <>. 78 Years old, he is like a “ figure”. He is a guardian of histories. The guardian of his history. The history of his people . The history of his native land. Les Chagos. <>

  • Solange, she lives locked up in her house, behind a wall and a door always tightly closed. << At Perros Banhos the life was not dangerous. Here, it is dangerous.>>

  • On the beach at Cap Malheureux. Like a distorting filter on this reality. The Chagossians have lost their turquoise waters and their paradisiacal beaches. Those offered by Mauritius have nothing in common. The sea does not have the same taste. A taste of bitterness and misfortune. A taste that does not let go.

  • Rosemoun is born in the Salomon Island, in the Chagos. She has been displaced(to the Mauritius Island in 1972, with her first child and her husband, died.
    Now, she has been married for 10 years with Emilien and she has been living in the Roche Bois district.

  • After 4 years of absence, Grandmother Lilly finds the family. Beer crates, chips and Lilly are being prepared. English clothes have fallen, the headdress is defeated, grandmother Lilly can sing and have fun with her family in this courtyard where four generations are crowded. "Or pick up the beer!" Ah yes ! Should drink! "

  • Reyel is the last son of Ivy and Will. Always a bit absent minded, he never takes off his red plastic lensless glasses. Impassive. Like a super hero without power... as if his future was suspended.

  • Annual food distribution for the Chagossiens Community, members from a Catholic association.

  • This is our last day with Ivy and her family, so we decided to go to the beach. Far from the district. A change scenery and surroundings. Closer to the sea and the horizon.

  • The ancient Chagossians live for the most part in the past, in a continued legitimate and perpetual regret of the loss of their lives in their native land. But time goes by. Young people are, for the most part, born in Mauritius. Far from Chagos. They know only their life here and the stories of their lost islands. They try to live, to survive day to day.

  • Azulé is a fisherman from Rodrigues.
    When he does not live in this misery in sheet metal, he goes out to sea to look for fish for long periods: Madagascar, Seychelles, Rodrigues. He knows all his islands. The Chagos too.
    His wife Pamela, Chagossienne the assistance and officiates as a cleaning lady. They have been married for 21 years and have two children.
    She has never seen the Chagos. Only what her husband tells her when he gets home.
    So far from home.

  • Young boy in Batterie Cassée District

  • Daniel has just lost his wife, who died while giving birth to their first child. In a few months he will seek fortune in Switzerland, alone, with his English passport; a synonym of hope and inevitable separation from his family, in search of new horizons.

  • Moment of lightness during the preparation of the baptism of the daughter of Daniel, in the room of the celebrations of the Batterie Cassée district. The moments when all Chagossians meet are rare.
    On their islands of the Chagos they live as one and the same family. Lightness and innocence have left them.

  • The ancient Chagossians live in the past, in a continue legitimate regret and life from their native land. But the time goes by. Young people, they are born in Mauritius. Far form Chagos. They only know that life and stories of lost Island. They try to live like this , to survive day to day.

  • Moment of lightness during the preparation of the baptism of the daughter of Daniel, in the room of the celebrations of the Batterie Cassée. The moments when all Chagossians meet are rare. On their islands of the Chagos they live as one and the same family.
    Lightness and innocence have left them.

  • We celebrate the 60th birthday of a friend. Plastic chairs are scattered around the courtyard. The garland “Happy birthday” decorates the living room. People arrive in groups in the back of pickups. They unload kilos of bran, of Coke, of beers, and rum. They start dancing.

  • Saturday night. Will has a little drunk. The evening ended badly. The spirits became hot. Blows are gone. The pickups are back. Everybody is gone.
    "That's the Rodrigues!" Shit that! "Said Désiré, the owner of the box" I went round the world one and a half times. I saw apartheid in South Africa, but the worst apartheid is here in Mauritius! " Will continues to stagger, without understanding what is happening here.

  • Batterie Cassée district

  • The ancient Chagossians live in the past, in a continue legitimate regret and life from their native land. But the time goes by. Young people, they are born in Mauritius. Far form Chagos. They only know that life and stories of lost Island. They try to live like this , to survive day to day.

  • Rosemay, 3 sons (all married!), 67 years old. “There it’s better than here, hundred percent! Ah!” Young pregnant girl beside him on the roadside,14 years old. Rosemay speaks loud and fast, she harangues, she laughs, she clamors, and then looks down at you with smiling eyes.

  • We are at Solange, in the district of Roche Bois. One of his little children sleeps peacefully in the living room. On the other side of the wall, the street is in full tumult. The elections are coming and the future of the Mauritians is at stake. Each party pulls the cover to it. Communitarianism is king in Mauritius and each defends his clan. Nobody defends Les Chagossiens. Nothing will disturb his sleep and his dreams.

  • Everyday Clement lives again the life of Chagos thanks to his paintbrushes. The coprah work, the fishermen, the pile dwelling, and the richness of underwater life, the white sandy beaches, the coconut palms-- this deep quiet invades all his paintings.

  • The sea is a few hundred meters as the crow flies. It is necessary to pass the quarters in sheet metal. Go down the street Diego Garcia. Step over, avoid shots at bin Laden, a new drug less expensive and more destructive than crack. Exit the neighborhood of Batterie Cassée. Pay attention to stray dogs. Descend the district of Roche Bois. Cross the boulevard avoiding the cars. Take a bus. Direction Baie du Tombeau - autre quartier Chagossien. The sea is there. Just behind the big hotels for tourists protected by barbed wire. Children will stay at home for the holidays. They will play among the pile of metal and objects recovered in the courtyard. The beach is far away. Life at the Chagos thousands of miles away. An ocean of sadness and hope for last vague ground ..

  • Laval Mandarini is 54 years old. He has arrived in Maurice Island when he was 5 years old and he lives in the Baie du Tombeau quarter. His house is in the back of the main road that separate from the seaside. His playing field, his field of life. Laval Mandarini is a fisherman. Like his father in Chagos. Like his grand-father. Like the most part of the Chagossians.

  • << I painted the life over there, everyday scenes, the fishes, the tortoises, the houses, the churches, the managers, the boats, that came to look for us, it’s impossible to forget something.
    Clément does not get tired, he’s keeping his work everyday.
    << I have to do it and I love to do it. And then who knows, one day I’ll come back overthere, maybe to make some paintings.>>