The displaced Chagos Islanders yearning for home – podcast

After a five-day journey across the ocean, this week, a small delegation of Chagos Islanders made an emotional return to their homeland. They were there to symbolically lay claim to the islands for Mauritius, in hopes of eventually resettling there.

In 1968, the islands’ population was forcibly removed and relocated to other parts of Mauritius, the Seychelles and Britain to make way for a US military base on the island of Diego Garcia. Subsequent international court rulings have confirmed the UK acted unlawfully and must allow the Chagosians to return, but the UK has insisted that it retains sovereignty over the Chagos archipelago.

Author and international lawyer Philippe Sands, a legal adviser for the Mauritian government who joined the Chagossians on their journey, tells Michael Safi that when he first learned the details of how the islanders had been ripped from their homes, he was stunned. “I was pretty shocked, frankly, by my own ignorance,” he says.

Olivier Bancoult was just four years old when his family was deported to Mauritius from the Chagos Islands. In the past, he’d only been able to visit Peros Banhos, the island where he was born, under the strict watch of law enforcement officials during official “heritage visits” organised by the UK government. This time, it was different. “We are not coming as tourists, no,” he said.

Officials raise the Mauritian flag above an atoll on the Chagos Islands and sing the national anthem in a ceremony on Monday.

Photograph: Bruno Rinvolucri/The Guardian

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