Published: 14 June 2024

From: Community

Monday 10 June saw the arrival at Gatwick Airport of 52 people from Mauritius. They were joined by 25 people who had earlier made the same journey. All 77 individuals were seeking accommodation.

Their arrival in the UK follows the government’s offer of British Overseas Territories Citizenship, that is a British passport, to Chagossians currently living in Mauritius. This offer was made to recognise that the Chagossians were forced to move from their homeland, Diego Garcia, in the late 1960s and early 1970s to accommodate a large US Airforce base. Over time, Crawley has become home to the largest community of Chagossians in the UK, approximately 3,500 people, accounting for two-thirds of those resident in this country. The government forecasts that between 3,500 and 5,000 people currently living in Mauritius will take up the offer of citizenship.

Crawley Borough Council is bound by statute that sets out when housing must be offered. West Sussex County Council also has statutory housing duties relating to children and vulnerable adults. All 77 people were assessed against these duties in the same way that any other British citizen would be. Following this assessment, 40 people were offered emergency accommodation. The remaining 37 did not quality for accommodation but had nowhere else to go. We therefore had to set up a rest centre to provide shelter.

For the Chagossian people, a deep sense of injustice remains. That could be seen in the protests that accompanied Monday's arrivals. The community believes that they have still to be compensated properly for the loss of their homeland. The protests had the effect of making housing assessment decisions challenging. Staff from both Crawley Borough Council and West Sussex County Council responded both professionally and compassionately in meeting that challenge.

Within Crawley it is a challenge made harder by the housing situation in the town. In February of this year, the council was the first in England to declare a Housing Emergency. These pressures remain unabated.