Support the Chagossian Voices submission to the new Plan for Immigration consultation

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Chagossian Voices submission to the public consultation: New Plan for Immigration
1.     Why are Chagossians British citizens?
(i)             The Chagossians are the exiled citizens of a British Overseas Territory and their descendants.
(ii)            Unlike other BOT citizens, the Chagossians were all forcibly removed from their islands by the UK government and were moved to foreign territories without consent or consultation.
(iii)          They have been forbidden to return to their islands and until 2002 were forced to raise families outside Crown territories against their will.
(iv)           They are British citizens who have been denied their rights of abode on their  territory, their rights to raise a family there, and denied any right to self-determination for themselves or their islands.
(v)            As BOT citizens both first and second generation Chagossians are entitled to UK citizenship and right of abode. For many this has not been the case. In addition, since they were forced from their UK territory to countries outside the Queen’s dominions, we believe ALL generations of Chagossians should be provided with a simple and cheap pathway to UK citizenship to compensate a substantial breach of their citizenship rights by the UK government.
(vi)           A further justification for the granting of citizenship to all generations is in the Chagossians’ right to a family life (UK Human Rights act 1998) as the arbitrary application of enforced exile and unfair immigration law has destroyed Chagossian families
(vii)         Further justification for the granting of UK citizenship to all Chagossians can be found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which the UK is a signatory. Article 15 declares that “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.” Article 27 defends the right to cultural expression and participation. The exile, dispersal and separation of the Chagossians and the fragmentation of their community has profoundly damaged their culture, their wellbeing and collective identity.
2.     What are the problems with the current citizenship/immigration status of Chagossians?
(i)             Only native born Chagossians with incontestable documentation and 2nd generation Chagossians born between 1969 and 1985 have had a relatively straightforward pathway to UK citizenship.
(ii)            2nd generation born outside these dates have often been denied citizenship, despite being entitled to UK citizenship
(iii)          3rd generation – many of whom have been in the UK since early childhood – often become an undocumented presence in the UK once they reach the age of 18. Family life, as well as the freedoms and potential of the undocumented Chagossian are profoundly damaged if a Chagossian becomes an undocumented resident.
(iv)           Most Chagossian families are paying huge visa, immigration, citizenship and legal expenses for spouses and children, limiting their lives and damaging their health and wellbeing
(v)            Most Chagossian families are divided or have been fractured over time due to the varied immigration status of family members. This is damaging to the health and wellbeing of family members
(vi)            The expensive, complicated and constantly changing pathways to citizenship have resulted in ‘chain’ migration with a Chagossian family taking as many as 10 years to fully migrate to the UK. Some never complete and remain divided.
(vii)         Many spouses of Chagossians do not qualify for permanent residence on grounds of income, further dividing families. Since spouses of Chagossians are often the partner in a long-established family, the family division created by this requirement is inhumane. Chagossian family members were living most of their lives in enforced exile and consequently also struggle with the ‘Life in the UK’ test. This should be waived in the case of Chagossians
(viii)        Chagossians have had citizenship denied for the following reasons:
·      Native born parents were unmarried or had incomplete documentation. However, no permanent civil or religious registration existed on the islands and the gender imbalance and mobile workforce on the islands meant that traditional nuclear families were rare. Rejection on this basis is unacceptable.
·      Citizenship has been sometimes declined due to the gender of native ancestor
·      Often applications are rejected due to error or ignorance at the passport or Home Office
·      Initial rejection was also made in the past due to the well-known‘ Hostile environment’ policy at the Home office, which also affected many of the Windrush generation.
(ix)           The rules and regulations related to immigration and right of abode have changed frequently since 2002, adding further stress and confusion for families
Summary of damaging effects on Chagossians of the current immigration policy; ongoing financial pressure, debt and high interest loans; poverty and resulting poor physical and mental health; stress through displacement, loss and separation; undocumented Chagossians cannot work or claim benefits and become marginalized and isolated as well as creating a burden for other family members. Chagossians find it difficult to progress in society lacking opportunities to develop financial and social capital.
Most Chagossians in the UK live in a state of financial and emotional precarity.
3.     What changes do the Chagossian community want to UK immigration law?
We believe that all native born Chagossians and their direct descendants should be provided with simple and cheap access to UK citizenship. Citizenship should not depend on the gender or marital status of the Chagossian ancestor. Spouses of Chagossians should not need to qualify in terms of income or the life in the UK test. Chagossians need support, in order to adapt, integrate and succeed in the UK.
4.     What would the benefits be for Chagossians?
Chagossians would be able to flourish in UK society both as individuals and as a community. They would be released from the financial burdens and stress of immigration requirements and fees. Undocumented Chagossians would be able to work, get educated, marry and fully participate in society. Family life would be restored and the vibrant character and culture of Chagossians would be a fully functioning part of UK society.