Wwhen Laurenza Piron was forced from her home in the Chagos Islands in 1970, she was sent by boat to the Seychelles. Her parents and siblings were sent to Mauritius. It was two decades before they found each other again, and even then neither of them could afford a reunion. Piron, now 76, therefore never saw her family again.
“I wanted to go, but I did not have the money,” says Piron. ‘Compensation had to be paid. If it were so, there would be no such hardship. ”
Piron was one of the 1,500 people who left the Chagos Islands, on the Indian Ocean archipelago, by the American and British armies. The United Kingdom, which owns the land, leased the largest island, Diego Garcia, to the United States to build a military base.
Last year, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that the continued British occupation of the islands was illegal.
In the 1970s, the United Kingdom gave the Mauritian government £ 4.65 million to reimburse the Chagossians, but no money was paid to people sent to the Seychelles.
The exiles hope this will change as they file a new petition through the U.S. Foreign Claims Act, which compensates for the injury, death or damage to non-competitors by U.S. military personnel abroad.
“Based on the  “According to the UN, there is an illegal occupation of the Chagos Islands,” said Jonathan Levy, a U.S. lawyer representing the Chagossians in the petition. “We say to the government: ‘You owe the Chagoss people damages for operating a military base on their property.’
In October, the U.S. Department of the Air Force rejected a first attempt, saying, “It has been determined that the payment of the claims is not in the interest of the U.S. government.” However, the legal team is planning a new legal action after the elected president Joe Biden took office in January.
‘The incoming government of Biden wants to change US foreign policy, and the Chagos archipelago is a good place to start by acknowledging the Chagossians’ claims to their property and land and paying a small refund, given the tremendous value of the lease-free use. of Diego Garcia has provided the United States for the past five decades, ”says Levy.
Travel brochures depict the Seychelles as an island paradise, an oasis of golden beaches and crystal clear waters. But for Chagossians, it was a place of discrimination, poverty and homelessness.
When Piron first came to the Seychelles with her husband and three children, they slept on the ground under a coconut tree.
“Going to school without shoes will take an hour to walk there,” said Laurenza’s son, Jean-Joseph, 55, who was five years old when he arrived on the island. ‘On the way we would pick fruit from the trees and it would be our breakfast because we did not have money to eat. Concentrating on lessons in lessons was impossible, ”he explains with tears in his eyes.
Many residents of the Chagossis in the Seychelles were teased by the locals and told to go back to where they came from. They are called anara, which means uncivilized, dirty and unvaccinated.
The family has always struggled to get by. Piron’s husband found work as a fisherman, and eventually the family was able to build a small homestead in the woods, not far from the coconut trees in which they slept.
‘We never had food on the [Chagos] islands. If we needed fish, we would get a little out of the sea, ‘says Piron, but she adds:’ Life is hard here, very hard. I’m struggling. ”
Georgette Gendron, 67, of Diego Garcia, came to the Seychelles at age 12, with her parents and five siblings. With no place to go, the whole family lived in a cramped single room in the basement of a family member’s house.
“There was no house, no food, nothing. Can you imagine being told to just go with all the kids, with no place? We were just like refugees, ”says Gendron. “My mother was very miserable. She had health problems. There was a time when Dad didn’t have a job. ‘
Cyril Bertrand, 72, happened to be in the Seychelles for medical treatment when the Chagos Islands were closed. His family – seven brothers and sisters and his father – were sent to Mauritius.
“The military has pursued my family with guns. They did not want to leave the island. It is a sad story, ”he says.
Bertrand settled in the Seychelles, got married, got a job and was among the few who could afford to visit his family in Mauritius. Many Chagossians are not so happy, he says.
Many of the first generation of the exiles are elderly, poor and the prospect of never seeing their homeland again. “Most of them die here in Seychelles,” Bertrand says. “They never come to Mauritius. Even though they have family there. ”
In 2016, the UK government unveiled a £ 40 million support package for community projects for Chagossians living in the UK, Mauritius and Seychelles, to be paid over a decade. So far, less than 2% of this fund has been distributed.
The Chagossians surveyed said they did not benefit from the money.
“Compensation would mean we could have a better life here,” Gendron says. “The errors need to be corrected. What about justice? ”
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