Tag Archives: Crawley

Exiled: Five Years On

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In my last post I discussed the making of the documentary Exiled in 2010 and my experiences of producing a political film during an election year. Whilst reflecting on the film I caught up with President Allen Vincatassin about what life has been like for the UK based Diego Garcians since the making of the film, and the latest developments in their campaign for a return to their island.

In February of 2013 Allen met with Mark Simmonds (then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Foreign Affairs) who agreed to a new feasibility study into the possibility of resettlement in the Chagos including Diego Garcia. The study has now been published and can be found here.

As part of his research, Mark Simmonds visited the island in March 2014 despite protest from Mauritius who are still pursuing claims of sovereignty. He was the first UK minister in history to visit the islands.

The study had favourable results, concluding that there is no legal barrier to resettlement and theorising various options by which a return could be implemented. This feels like a big step forward for the Diego Garcians who have been held back by such feasibility studies in the past. Previous studies have focused on a lack of infrastructure and environmental changes such as rising sea levels, claiming that the island would be uninhabitable despite the contradictory presence of some 5000 military personnel.

The new report in fact states that the ideal island for resettlement within the Chagos Archipelago, is Diego Garcia. The report concedes that the island base means that an infrastructure is in place as Diego Garcia already has a port and airport. Diego Garcia would be better for resettlement than the outer islands because of this existing infrastructure so the presence of the military base has actually become a positive factor in the case for resettlement.

A larger question remains as to how to create jobs and industry on the island and this is one of the areas that now needs research. A number of contractors from the Phillipines currently work at the base, so it is clear that the base does provide potential employment for civilians. Allen has managed to convince the UK government that the defense of the base isn’t a problem as islanders can occupy the other side of the island which is currently uninhabited. In the past, resettlement of Diego Garcia has been discouraged on the basis of it being a threat to international security, but people live next to and near to military bases all over the world.

The US is leasing the land from the UK and the lease officially expires in 2016. The lease will need to be renegotiated soon and the US is in an awkward position following revelations of the island base’s use in renditions flights and as a suspected black prison site – activity which may well be a factor in the USA’s reluctance to have a civilian population nearby. The US are unwilling to allow a civilian population to use any of their infrastructure such as housing, but they have not spoken against civilian use of the port and airport where immigration is controlled by the UK.

A week before Parliament’s dissolution, James Dudderidge, Simmonds’ successor at the Foreign Office, said that there is more work to be done to make a decision as to how resettlement could happen and who would want to return.

Allen has said that there is a need for more in depth work to be done as to who would like to return to the islands but the very realistic terms in which resettlement is now being discussed are encouraging. People have begun to register their interest in returning.

Allen has been in discussions with the Foreign Office about a pilot resettlement. One of the big questions is how much the resettlement will cost the treasury.

My conversation with Allen was conducted before the general election, this progress was made with the coalition government and the hope is that the work can continue when the new government come to power. There is a need for more studies in order to work towards a pilot resettlement in order to see if permanent resettlement could be sustainable. The Diego Garcians have a plan and are waiting to present it to the new government.

Today marks the State Opening of Parliament and with James Dudderidge and the Foreign Minister Philip Hammond returning to their posts it is hopeful that these discussions will continue to progress.

Looking back on the film.

Allen’s reflection on the documentary is that it highlighted the Diego Garcian’s story very well but he can’t confirm what impact it had on the local or national public. The biggest hope was that the film would reach a wider audience than just the local screenings that it was commissioned for and the Diego Garcian society haven’t had the resources to organize further screenings of the film. It seems that the Road to Crawley project hasn’t continued much contact with the community since the film was made.

Henry is still Crawley’s MP and Laura has retired from politics but both have continued their support for the cause. Henry has helped a lot with organizing meetings with Mark Simmonds to negotiate resettlement and speaking on the Diego Garcians’ behalf in Parliament on several occasions. Allen’s feeling before the election was that if the Conservatives remain in government then the DG population stand a good chance of achieving their right to return home.

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Charlesia (Saji) Alexis sadly passed away in December 2012.

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Myleene continues her work with the Sega dancers and the Diego Garcian youth group.

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Marie-Ange has made progress learning English and is now living in the Brighton area.

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Selmour is well and enjoying being a Grandfather.

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Allen has self-published his memoir Flight to Freedom which is now available on Amazon.

About the Author:

Evan Wilkinson is a Community Filmmaker based in Brighton. As well as producing videos and community film projects, Evan teaches workshops in filmmaking, script development and animation. For more information please visit: http://evanwilkinson.co.uk

Exiled: The History

What follows is a summary of some of the research I conducted for the documentary Exiled. I am posting it in order to serve as context to the film and to subsequent posts regarding its making.

Diego Garcia is the largest island of the Chagos Archipelago. The islands became British territory in 1815 at the end of the Napoleonic War. Coconuts and coconut oil (copra) were the main industry with most of the islanders involved in working for the coconut plantation.

The plantation provided housing for the workers but also gave them permission to build their own houses, which most preferred. There was no monetary system on the island, islanders traded and shared everything. The workers were paid a small wage, which was saved for them until it was enough for a trip to Mauritius. The only thing the islanders really needed money for was clothes, which they would go to Mauritius to buy.

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Diego Garcia became the intended site for a planned US Military Base sometime in the late 50s. During the Cold War, the US was looking for a territory in the Indian Ocean from which to monitor the Soviet Union.

As a result, Mauritius was offered independence on the condition that the country laid no claim to the Chagos Islands. Mauritian Prime Minister Seewoosar Ramgoolam was persuaded to sell the Chagos to Britain for the price of £3 million. Ramgoolam also received a knighthood in the 1965 New Year’s Honors list and it is speculated that this may have been a form of reward for the sale.

The Americans had originally wanted to build a base on the Aldabra Atoll, which had no human inhabitants. However, it was found to be home to the rare Aldabra tortoise. The wildlife lobby ensured that the US plans for Aldabra were dropped.

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The island of Diego Garcia is horseshoe-shaped, making it a natural harbour capable of containing a large US Naval fleet. To the cabinet of Howard Wilson, Diego Garcia seemed a natural second choice for the US Government, who wished the island to be unpopulated for security reasons.

It is implied that American ‘bought’ the island and not the people, and that part of the agreement was that it was Britain’s responsibility to remove the islanders.

The deal was struck and the inhabitants were removed under a lie by the Foreign Office that they were merely migrant workers – “some few Tarzans and Man Fridays that are hopefully being wished on Mauritius.”

Britain proceeded to “maintain the fiction that the inhabitants of the Chagos are not a permanent or semi-permanent population” and began covertly removing the population of the Chagos whilst avoiding the attention of the media. This secrecy continued throughout the following decades with actions such as the UK deliberately under-counting the number of Chagossian residents to play down the scale of the depopulation.

The depopulation process was an underhanded one.

  • Islanders refused right to return – those visiting Mauritius simply not allowed to go home
  • Food supplies cut off – ships no longer sail to Diego Garcia
  • Britain buys out plantations – workers no longer have jobs to support their lives on the island
  • American military arrive and construction of base begins
  • The military tell the islanders that there is a war going on and that they aren’t safe on the island
  • Intimidation and killing of pets – rumours on the island that islanders will be harmed, then all of the islanders’ pets are rounded up and horrifically slaughtered as they are made to watch
  • Evacuation of Diego Garcia – the remaining islanders are moved to Salomon and Peros Banhos islands where they live for 2 years
  • Final removal in 1973 – loaded on to a boat under inhumane conditions and dumped on the docks of Mauritius with no one to meet them

With no one to meet them at the docks islanders were left to wander through the streets of Port Louis looking for family and assistance. The majority of islanders were allowed to take very little on them so most family photos and items of sentimental value are lost forever.

The initial compensation made available to the islanders for their relocation was minimal and was not made available to them until 1978 by which time inflation had rendered it almost worthless. Each islander received approximately £20 each. The islanders struggled to survive an endured a parade of court cases, protests and political debate in order to gain financial assistance. It is not until 1983 that the islanders receive any substantial payment and the 1983 payment only constitutes half of what the UK government had been advised was necessary. The islanders were offered the money on the condition that they signed a contract stating that they would make no further compensation claims and that they would renounce all rights to return to the Chagos Islands. Most of those who signed the contracts did so out of desperation and many who signed could not read and had no idea of what they were agreeing to. To date the US government has taken no financial responsibility for the removal of the islanders.

The islanders were treated as second-class citizens and lived in abject poverty in Port Louis’ slums. They had no electricity or running water. Many of the slum houses lacked doors and windows. The community suffered from problems of crime, drugs and prostitution, which they had not encountered on Diego Garcia. By mid-1975 at least 1 in 40 had died of starvation and disease. Suicides and child deaths were common.

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The islanders had trouble adjusting to modern life in contrast to their simpler lifestyle on the island. They had no money and had to adjust to living in a society based on economy. This also meant that workers were often exploited, as they had no understanding of the value of the money they were being paid.

The Diego Garcians and Chagossians held regular protests to gain justice in Mauritius. Elderly women performed hunger strikes and were beaten by police. A series of legal battles ensued.

Finally, in 2002 the UK Parliament enacted legislation giving all Chagossians the right to obtain full British citizenship. For years the Diego Garcians were restricted as British Indian Ocean Territory citizens, British citizens with no rights to live in the UK.

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On the 16th September 2002, Allen Vincatassin arrives in the UK at Gatwick Airport with a group of 18 other Diego Garcians. Allen declares at customs that he is a destitute British citizen in need of assistance. The local council accommodated the islanders in the Airport Travelodge under the National Assistance Act of 1948. They spent 3 days and nights waiting at the hotel for a decision on their circumstances. They were then moved to a Premier Inn in Crawley. They spent a total of 5 months living in hotels as they started to build their new lives.

A second group of islanders arrived in March 2003. In April 2003 the press reported that Allen was urging Diego Garcians in Mauritius to come to the UK. “My vision for the community is that we come here – the first thing to do is to work to get finances, to be removed from poverty – and then to go back to Diego Garcia.”

In 2004 two more groups (approx 70 people) arrived in October sparking headlines. There was a negative perception of asylum seekers that was incorrectly applied to the islanders when they first arrived. The local media slowly explained the situation and the people gained a greater understanding.

At the time of making the documentary, approximately 2000 Diego Garcians were living in Crawley. Many were working and their children were in education. Members of the community were taking positive steps to rebuild their lives but some were struggling with language barriers and cultural differences. Some had been met with hostility from Crawley residents.

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With help from local MP Laura Moffatt, the Diego Garcians managed to broker a deal to allow small groups to visit the island under constant escort from the American Military. The Diego Garcians continue to campaign for their right to return home to their island.

The film was made as part of The Road To Crawley Project, a Heritage Lottery project designed to collate a social history of Crawley residents.

About the Author:

Evan Wilkinson is a Community Filmmaker based in Brighton. As well as producing videos and community film projects, Evan teaches workshops in filmmaking, script development and animation. For more information please visit: http://evanwilkinson.co.uk

Exiled: Production Info

Exiled

Exiled is a documentary that I made with Compulsive Productions in 2010. It tells the story of the islanders from Diego Garcia; some 2000 British citizens who were forcibly removed from their island in the sixties so that Britain could lease it to America for a military base. The film follows the journey of the displaced people to rebuild their lives and fight for their return to their homeland.

The film explores the history of the Diego Garcians’ forced removal from their island, their experiences in the slums of Mauritius, and their journey to the UK where they struggle to build new lives and continue to battle for their rights.

The film features interviews with members of the Diego Garcian community who reflect on life on the island and give eyewitness accounts of the expulsion and the shocking conditions they endured on their journey to Mauritius. The islanders recount their struggle to survive in the slums of Mauritius when they were denied resettlement money and left to languish in poverty.

Roughly two thirds of the Diego Garcian islanders now live in Crawley after using all of their available resources to make the journey to the UK. Life for the islanders has improved but their culture and lives have been inexorably altered by the expulsion and the scars of this experience are still visible. Now the islanders struggle to overcome language barriers and integrate into British society despite racial tensions and violent oppositions within the town.

Our team worked hard to become trusted and accepted by the Diego Garcian community living in Crawley over a period of months. We conducted several interviews with residents before deciding on the community figures that would tell the story of the exile.

We spoke to Allen Vincatassin, leader of the Diego Garcian community in Crawley who led the islanders in their move to the UK. Allen is a spokesperson for the community and campaigns politically for their rights. He provides valuable support for community members settling in the UK and has also been instrumental in the recent government initiative to declare the Chagos Archipelago a Marine Protected Area for the future conservation of marine life.

Since the making of this film, Allen has been elected president of the Provisional Government of Diego Garcia and the Chagos Islands.

Allen’s late grandfather, Michel Vincatassin famously took legal action against the British Government for their treatment of the islanders and faced bitter opposition until his death. Michel’s son, Simon, told us the story of his father’s campaign and the poltical tensions it created. Sadly, Simon has now passed away so this footage shows him in his final days.

We interviewed Selmour Chery, an elderly man who reminisced about his life on the island and how a visit to Mauritius left him stranded with no home and no job when he was told he was not allowed to return to his home.

We spoke to Selmour’s sister, Saji Alexis, an inspiring woman who led the people in protest against their dire living conditions and lack of support in Mauritius. Despite being beaten by the police and thrown into jail, Saji continued to protest and lead hunger strikes until the Diego Garcians were finally granted British passports and full UK citizenship rights.

We spoke to Marie-Ange Modliar who was among the last islanders to be removed in inhumane conditions aboard the over-crowed ship, Noordvaer, and Myleene, a community worker, who teaches Diego culture to the new generation of Diego Garcians. Myleene and Marie-Ange visited the island together last year as the first Diego Garcian women to return since the expulsion.

Also interviewed are the former head of West Sussex County Council, Henry Smith, who recounts his experiences of providing welfare support for the 2000 islanders who arrived at Gatwick Airport as destitute British citizens and the former MP for Crawley, Laura Moffatt, who campaigned for the Foreign Office to allow the islanders visits to their homeland.

At the time of making the film, the US military base on Diego Garcia housed over 4000 military personnel. The base had proved a site of strategic importance for the US military in their recent actions against Afghanistan and Iraq. The Diego Garcian population are still banned from returning home. The American military have stated in the past that their presence on the island would pose a threat to international security.

The island’s ‘lease’ comes to an end in 2016 and will need to be renegotiated. The islanders are still campaigning for their right to return to their home.

About the Author:

Evan Wilkinson is a Community Filmmaker based in Brighton. As well as producing videos and community film projects, Evan teaches workshops in filmmaking, script development and animation. For more information please visit: http://evanwilkinson.co.uk

Crossed Paths: Art Direction

In my last post I talked about my role as a Make Up Artist on the short film Crossed Paths. I talked about how I created make up effects for each of the two leads and gave a brief synopsis of the film, which was made by young people in Crawley.

I also worked as the Art Director for the film, making key props and dressing the locations. A lot of the action in the film takes place in a small square with shops and a pub where the characters hang out.

One scene required filming in a shop where Aaron gets a job. We were lucky to find a shop in the square where we were shooting that allowed us to film on their premises over night. The shop was closing down and the owners agreed to leave behind their remaining stock for us.

There wasn’t enough stock to fill the shop, which was a bit of a challenge, but I managed to fill the front of the shop, the till area and a central aisle. It was a good couple of hours of shuffling stock around while the crew filmed scenes outside. As often happens with set and props work, the crew only ended up using a portion of the set but I was very happy with how it all looked under the lights.

Aaron’s neighbour Hasan has given him a job in his shop, but they soon come to blows over Aaron’s growing right wing views. When Aaron’s new friend and N.E.M. member Joe asks Aaron to post flyers about their march in Hasan’s shop, Hasan objects and Aaron quits.

We used a local pub as the meeting place for the N.E.M. which was conveniently located in the same square as the majority of our shooting, in Gossops Green. The close proximity of our locations lent itself to the sense of confinement and the intensity of these different cultural groups struggling to live side by side.

The staff of the Windmill Pub were extremely accommodating and nothing like the scary looking thugs we filled their pub with. The pub was already decked out in England flags, which made for a perfect backdrop for the N.E.M. meetings. My work at this location consisted of lighting the scenes and rearranging the pub’s interior to accommodate our equipment and make the most of the location. I repositioned a lot of the furniture and decorations to suit the blocking of each scene, added some more patriotic embellishments and filled the pub with N.E.M. flyers, advertising the march.

We first see the pub when Aaron meets Joe and they go for a pint. Joe is in a similar position to Aaron, out of work and angry at the lack of opportunities. He tells Aaron about the N.E.M. who blame immigration and multiculturalism for the lack of jobs. Joe takes Aaron under his wing and encourages him to come to the next meeting.

In the next scene at the pub we see Aaron becoming indoctrinated into the group as the N.E.M.’s leader rallies them for the march. It was a tough scene to shoot as the interior of the pub was quite dark and the number of wide shots necessary to show the whole group meant that we were limited as to where we could place our lights.

As the N.E.M. are preparing to march, a group of college students plan a counter-demonstration to oppose the right wing group. We filmed the scene in the canteen of Central Sussex College in Crawley.

I decorated the canteen using Stop the N.E.M. flyers, which the protest organiser also hands out during the scene. I created a range of placards for the protest scene, some of which I left unfinished and placed around the canteen along with marker pens, paint and brushes so that our extras could be seen working on them. I also created a large banner to be used later at the protest, which I hung as a backdrop.

The action of the film all builds up to the day of the protest when all of these groups face off against each other.

As this was a Council funded projected we were able to close the roads where we were filming, which was great. It also meant that we had police officers with vehicles on hand who were happy to participate, which really added to the look and feel of the scene.

I made a range of banners and placards for the protest scene, some of which were also used in the earlier canteen scene. I wanted the various signs to look homemade and so I used fairly cheap materials. I also tried to create a difference in style between those belonging to the N.E.M. and those belonging to the students.

It was a strange experience creating protest signs for both sides of the protest, a bit like having split personalities – switching from extreme right-wing hate-speak one minute to anti-fascist imagery the next. I was also a bit worried about what my neighbours would think when I had to leave a lot of the placards outside to dry.

The film was used as part of an anti-extremism project by Crawley Borough Council. It was distributed to schools along with an education pack to help teachers explore the issues raised by the film. The pack also contained further interviews with the characters, which lent more context to the story.

If you would like to explore issues through filmmaking and create a short film with your group then I can provide the necessary training and support to make your project a reality. Visit my website or contact me now for more information about my filmmaking workshops.

Crossed Paths: Makeup


In November 2010 I worked on the short film Crossed Paths as a Make Up Artist and Art Director. The film was made by young people and was funded by Crawley Borough Council as part of an anti-extremism project. The story focuses on two young men, Aaron and Yusuf, whose combined fates are set in motion by an act of violence when Yusuf attacks Aaron in the street with a knife, landing himself in prison and Aaron in the hospital.

The action picks up some time later, when Yusef is released from prison. Aaron, meanwhile, is struggling to get back on his feet after the attack, which has left him permanently scarred. After a failed job interview he meets a member of the New English Movement, who blame the town’s multiculturalism for the lack of opportunities for young men like Aaron. Angry and disillusioned, Aaron gets swept up in the group’s dangerous ideology.

I created Aaron’s scar using On Skin Silicone and applied it with a Principality Dispensing Gun. The silicone comes in a range of skin tones which need to be powdered after they are dry in order to reduce the shine and blend into the surrounding skin.

As we filmed over several days, it was important to recreate the scar as accurately as possible on a daily basis, sometimes twice a day if it was knocked or peeling. I always take as many photos as possible so that I can keep a record of the look and to maintain continuity.


Yusuf goes through a lot of changes in prison and tries to overcome his violent past by becoming absorbed in his Islamic faith. However, this change is not necessarily for the better as it soon becomes clear that Yusuf has developed some extremist views and has been under the influence of some dangerous people. Yusuf takes to his renewed faith with a dangerous fervour and begins to recruit other community members to his cause.

Rishi, the actor playing Yusuf, was not permitted by his work to grow a beard for the role and so I had to apply a fake beard for him twice a day on location. This was my first time using beards and our schedule and budget didn’t allow for any practise time. I had to apply the beard for the first time on our first day of shooting with very little time to spare. It was a challenge, but I was pleased with the results.

I used a fake beard that was attached to a fine mesh net. The beard had to be glued on using spirit gum and then trimmed.

The action builds to a clash between various sectors of society as the New English Movement organises a march through a Muslim neighbourhood. A group of students stage a demonstration to show their opposition to the march and Yusuf organises a group to fight back against the N.E.M. As events spiral out of control, Yusuf and Aaron cross paths once again, with tragic results.

I’ll talk about my role as an Art Director on the production in my next post.

If you would like to take part in a special effects makeup workshop or make a short film with your group then head over to my website or get in touch to find out more about my services as a Community Filmmaker.