During the 1960s and 70s, the UK government removed all inhabitants of the Chagos Islands from their land, creating what is known as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). This allowed the islands to become a US military base. The majority of Chagossians were removed to Mauritius and Seychelles.
In 2002, the UK government made the decision to grant British citizenship to all British Overseas Territories citizens, which included Chagossians. However, this applied only to those born on the Chagos Islands and their children. Citizenship was not extended to subsequent generations such as grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
The UK government has finally addressed this issue. The Nationality and Borders Act 2022 amends the British Nationality Act 1981 to create an entitlement for the direct descendants of Chagossians to be registered as British citizens and/or British Overseas Territories citizens (BOTC).
Applicants can apply for British citizenship and BOTC at the same time as part of one application and, if eligible, can obtain both forms of citizenship.
The requirements for the application are relatively straightforward, at least in theory. Applicants will need to evidence that they are a direct descendant of someone born in the Chagos Islands. The Home Office published caseworker guidance on these citizenship applications in which they define ‘direct descendant’ as:
‘Direct descendants are the biological children and grandchildren of an ancestor. For example, you are a direct descendant of your mother, your grandmother, your greatgrandmother, and so on. This also applies to the paternal side and includes your father, your grandfather, your great grandfather and so on. Direct descendants do not refer to aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, cousins, and so on.’
Evidence of direct descent will typically include birth certificates and birth records, but can also include:
- medical or dental records;
- marriage or civil partnership certificates;
- change of name deed polls; and
- factual records including court proceedings.
The Home Office has confirmed that the BIOT administration is in the process of digitalising the birth records it holds for those born on the Chagos Islands. This means that where an applicant does not have access to a copy of their ancestor’s birth certificate, the BIOT should be able to help with verifying the applicant’s Chagossian ancestry.
Applicants will also need to provide a form of ID, and two referees to verify their identity. There is no good character requirement for these applications.
You are not eligible to apply if you have ever previously been a BOTC or British Dependent Territories citizen.
Applications are open as of 23 November 2022. You can apply online here: Apply for British citizenship as a person of Chagossian descent – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk). There is no application fee.
The Home Office has set a time limit on these applications. Those who are already 18 or over will have five years from 23 November 2022 to apply. The deadline for those under the age of 18 as at 23 November 2022 is the person’s 23rd birthday. Under the guidance those born between 23 November 2022 and 23 November 2027 may also be eligible to apply up to their 23rd birthday.
While this does not fully rectify the situation, the introduction of this entitlement to register is good news for Chagossian descendants who have previously been excluded from becoming British citizens or BOTCs.
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