The drama of the Chagossians, who 50 years ago were forced to evacuate the Indian Ocean archipelago where they lived to make way for a US military base, has particular resonance for Denise Rose.
He still lives in me […]. I haven’t stopped talking about what happened to them since then,” the 82-year-old says in an interview Journalism.
The decoration of the walls of her residence in Mont Blanc, in the Laurentians, testifies to a long-standing passion for sailing, which explains how she and her husband Daniel, now deceased, faced the tragic fate of the expelled inhabitants.
In 1973, the couple took to the sea for a tour around the family’s sailboat that had lasted nearly a decade.
After staying in French Polynesia and the Fiji Islands in particular, they bypassed Australia and in the summer of 1977 sailed to Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean, where a shock awaited them.
“My husband once said to me, ‘You know, from now on, we’re halfway there, we’re going home.’ When he told me that, I felt so bad, even if it took years to get back.
The couple, thirsting for new adventures, decided in July to sail to the Chagos Islands, thousands of kilometers to the west, taking advantage of the strong winds that would shift after a few months.
They know nothing at that time, or nearly, of the state of the archipelago, except that they will have to organize themselves to live in perfect independence.
It was only during a short stopover in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, MI Roose, that navigators take a measure of what awaits them at their destination.
There were American soldiers on leave at the site. They told us that there were no civilians in the Chagos Archipelago, and they had to leave, and that a contract had been signed between Great Britain and the United States for the establishment of a military base. We took it all in,” she says.
More than 1,500 people were evacuated from 1965 to 1973
According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, Washington has demanded that Diego Garcia Atoll, where the base still stands, be depopulated. After that, Britain decided to evacuate civilians from the entire archipelago, which stretches for hundreds of kilometers.
From 1965 to 1973, more than 1,500 people were forced to leave. Some have been scammed and have not been able to return after a vacation. Others were forcibly put on ships and evacuated to Mauritius, which today claims control of the archipelago, or the Seychelles.
Arriving in the Solomon Islands, which is part of the Chagos Archipelago, the Russians discover the remains of a small settlement adjacent to a coconut plantation. Lush vegetation has reasserted itself and is trying to overrun many of the buildings, and the atmosphere is ghostly. Documents that are left attest to past economic activity.
However, the couple has other, more pressing concerns. The Roses decide to stay in an abandoned building by reclaiming the family left behind. “The first night we were run over by lemmings,” says the lady.I Rose.
Nutritional needs are also far from certain as the extended stay begins.
They find a banana plantation on a nearby island, take advantage of the presence of breadfruit trees which give large fruits and seek to produce oil from coconuts. A former prison used to house chickens brought from Christmas Island. Hunting also allows them to fend for themselves.
“in survival mode”
Only two weeks after their arrival, the Russians saw a trawler come to fish in the archipelago. The pair are invited aboard, but they are not overly interested in the fishermen, including the many Chagossians on board because they know the local waters so well.
“We focused on ourselves because we were in survival mode,” M. notes wistfullyI Rose, stating that the pursuit of “flour” has become a real obsession for her.
Although he is theoretically forbidden to meet him on the archipelago, the pair do not hesitate to produce a large banner to alert American pilots on patrol of his nutritional needs.
“They were waving their wings at us. But we never had any flour,” she says.
They will continue their lives cut off from the world without major clashes for 10 months until the winds change direction and allow them to sail again towards the West without being disturbed by the authorities.
A New Zealand navigator who had called for help from Diego Garcia base later told them that the American pilots had hidden their presence from the local British official.
They wanted to keep us out of trouble. Even if we were asked to leave, we could have argued that we were caught by the wind, ”MI Rose.
Quebec, who has testified on several occasions about the agonizing spectacle she witnessed on the spot, believes that the British and American authorities could have proceeded differently with the Chagossians and pleads for them to be able to recover their lands without further delay.
Many have died since then, but their children and grandchildren should be able to return. “What was done is absolutely inhumane,” she said.
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