As the UK refuses to let go of the Chagos Islands, one activist fights for her exiled community’s right to return home.
Editor’s note: This film is no longer available online.
Sabrina Jean is driven by a deep-seated wish she wants to realise for her Chagossian community: the right to return home.
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In the 1960s, the entire Creole population of the Chagos Islands, located in the Indian Ocean, was expelled by the British authorities. The secret operation took place to facilitate the leasing of the main island, Diego Garcia, to the US government so it could build one of its largest overseas military bases.
Now with the military lease about to expire, she and other Chagossian exiles are attempting to recover their home from the UK.
Through unrelenting activism, including legal action, public demonstrations, and the exile community’s improbable participation in the World Football Cup for Stateless People, she and other activists work tirelessly to bring their issue into the spotlight, pushing for resettlement and full compensation for their exile.
Sabrina’s advocacy takes her all over the world; in front of the White House, she lifts a banner that reads: “LET US RETURN”.
But as their elders pass away and memories fade, time is running out.
By Olivier Magis
The story of the Chagos islanders is a 50-year odyssey of exile and displacement.
While searching for a way to tell this complex story, I came across Sabrina, a woman who embodies the epicentre of the Chagossian community in England. Through Sabrina, the Chagossians’ struggle is approached from a personal, emotional and committed angle.
Sabrina made a promise to herself: to devote her life to giving her father the chance to return to his island home. Driven by an unshakable faith in the cause of her community, Sabrina has managed to adapt to her new land of exile, England.
She has forged her own tools, allowing her to wage a battle against the British establishment and campaign for the right of return for the Chagossian people. In the face of the enormous power of the Anglo-American alliance, those tools may be so small as to be easily ignored – petitions, demonstrations, a football team – but still, Sabrina persists.
The Chagossian tragedy echoes well beyond Britain. Resorting to systematic raids and total deportation of local populations, the British revived tactics that many associate with the darkest chapters of European colonialism.
The parallel is all the more significant given that the partners and allies of the United Kingdom – including my country, Belgium – have known about the Chagossian case for decades.
Not one has spoken out in support of it.
But the connection between Europe and the Chagossian tragedy goes deeper still. At a time when thousands of people are risking their lives to reach European shores, the Chagossians beg the UK to let them go home.
These people are asking to no longer be migrants, yet their plea is systematically rejected. In a country where pro-Brexit rhetoric is partly built by encouraging fear of immigrants, this attitude towards the Chagossians is as Kafkaesque as it is incomprehensible.