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