The Chagos Betrayal

How Britain Robbed an Island and Made Its People Disappear
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‘A very creative way of telling of a terrible and ongoing atrocity. It is impossible to explore this book and not feel the injustice, and then feel that justice must be done.’ Benjamin Zephaniah

A shocking graphic novel account of poverty and discrimination suffered by the Chagos Islanders when their eviction by the British enforced US military control of their Indian Ocean home.

During the cold war, the US government sought to establish an overseas military presence in the Indian Ocean. This graphic novel is a shocking account of British complicity in the forced exodus of the Chagos Islanders from their homeland to make that plan possible.

Between 1965 and 1973 the inhabitants of the Chagos archipelago were forcibly removed from their homeland and dumped in Mauritius and Seychelles. Diego Garcia, the largest island in the group, was leased to the USA by the United Kingdom to accommodate the largest US military air base outside the US mainland. The agreement continues until 2036.

Florian Grosset’s searing account of the eviction, and the harsh life faced by the Chagossians after their displacement, looks back to the first generation of slaves who arrived on the archipelago and the lives of their descendants. It charts the present-day diaspora of Chagossians, their fight for the right to return through protests and court cases, and the different strategies still being used to keep them away from their land. Although, in 2016, the British government denied the right of the Chagossians to return to the islands, the islanders continue to fight for the right to return, many of them now to a homeland they never knew.  In February 2019, the International Court of Justice ruled that the UK decolonisation process of the Chagos islands was unlawful, and that the UK should end its control of the Indian Ocean archipelago, which includes a US military base.

Simon Chadwick, Cartoonists’ Club of Great Britain

23 August 2021

This isn’t a work of fiction, but the story of an action by the British Government that displaced an entire archipelago. Decades later the remaining survivors and their descendants continue to fight to return to their homeland, and although they receive occasional media coverage their story is largely unknown. 

So it falls to Florian Grosset to chart the history of the debacle, from their arrival on the islands as slaves, their gradual settling of the islands as slavery was abolished (although you’ll struggle to notice a difference in their circumstances), through to the gradual eviction and abandonment of the islanders to make way for a US Military base.

There’s very little in this book that makes for comfortable reading, made all the harsher by the continued efforts to sweep what has happened under the carpet. But, nevertheless, it is compelling reading. Families were split up, people were abandoned with no help or support, lies were told to enable the transfer to US hands, and, like with so many scandals, any effort to secure a fair solution was met with stalling, hostility and denial. As late as 2004, the UK Government was enabling strategies to prevent the Chagossians from returning home.

The reason the UK would capitulate to the US and lease the island makes strategic sense, but only if you completely discount the fact that people were already living there. To deny them of their home, their possessions, their future, and, in some cases, their family members, is a shocking act that deserves understanding. 

Florian’s work here is remarkable for its clarity and utter sense of injustice. She makes the most of the comic panel format to tell the story in a methodical and easy-to-follow manner, leaving you with little doubt as to where the blame for this displacement lies. It makes for a compelling and moving read.

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Morning Star, Michal Boncza

13 July 2021

BRITAIN acquired the Chagos Islands via a treaty signed after defeating Napoleon in 1814 and subsequently governed them from another British colony, Mauritius.

In 1965, Britain bought the Chagos archipelago from the now self-governing Mauritius — though it was still a colony — for a mere £660,000. The aim was to create the British Indian Ocean Territory to provide its ally the US with a military base in the region. The archipelago was then leased to the US until 2016, later extended until 2036.

As a consequence, from 1965 to 1973 the inhabitants of the Chagos archipelago were forcibly removed from their homeland and dumped in Mauritius and Seychelles. “We must surely be very tough about this ... there will be no indigenous population except the seagulls,” Baron Wright of the foreign and commonwealth office ominously declared in August 1966.

This callous disregard for the rights of the Chagossians and its tragic aftermath is the story told in The Chagos Betrayal by FlorIan Grosset.

Grosset is well placed to do so. She was born and grew up in Mauritius, where she witnessed at first hand the poverty in which the Chagossians have lived for decades after they were evicted from their idyllic home environment to the slums of Port Louis.

The Mauritians contemptuously called them “ilois” — the islanders and discrimination was the norm at all levels. Frequent death came from “mizer noir,” the black misery of starvation, suicide, disease and even miscarriage. There was no end to “sagri,” Creole for sorrow.

Grosset progresses the story in period-specific vignettes, contrasting the monochromes of exile with the colourful past and finally the black-and-white monotone of the struggle for restitution from the British government.

The book follows the Chagossian diaspora in their fight for the right to return through protests and court cases. Over 3,000 of them, the largest population outside Mauritius and the Seychelles, live marginalised in Crawley, west Sussex where the local authority has tried innumerable times to get them to leave Britain, despite the fact that they are actually British citizens.

“A very creative way of telling of a terrible and ongoing atrocity. It is impossible to explore this book and not feel the injustice and then feel that justice must be done,” comments Benjamin Zephaniah.

He’s backed by John Pilger, who urges that: “Every school, every library should have this book. Please read what was done in your name.”

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Lucy Timmins on instagram @whatlucyreads

30 June 2021

Ever heard of the Chagos islands? Truth be told, I hadn’t. Not until the wonderful @myriad_editions sent me a PR copy of Florian Grosset’s graphic portrayal of one of Britain and the US’s best kept secrets: the Chagos betrayal.

The Chagos archipelago is a remote group of 65 coral atolls in the middle of the Indian ocean, around 1000 miles south of India and just over 2000 miles east of Kenya. During the Cold War, Britain leased the Chagos (in particular its largest island, Diego Garcia) to the US so it could establish a large, but remote, military airbase outside of US mainland. The inhabitants of Diego Garcia and the rest of the Chagos were forcibly removed from their homeland, and literally dumped in Mauritius or the Seychelles, without jobs to earn a living or even homes to return to at the end of the day.

After fighting the power for decades, and the Chagossians who lived to experience the forced removal now reaching the end of their lives, the Chagos people have still not been able to return to their self-sufficient and beautiful homeland. To this day, the Chagos archipelago is ‘British Indian Ocean Territory’.
Grosset’s graphic account of the Chagos betrayal is absolutely brilliant, a must read. With its beautiful illustrations and explanations of the ongoing colonial politics that underpin the Chagos story in an accessible and informative way, I couldn’t put the book down and devoured it in one day. I am totally stunned that this atrocity and continuing crime against humanity has been buried in history, and implore everybody to read this book. Thank you SO much @gowitheflo19 for documenting so well such a devastating piece of history that deserves so much more attention.

Benjamin Zephaniah

9 March 2021

This is a very creative way of telling of a terrible and ongoing atrocity. It is impossible to explore this book and not feel the injustice, and then feel that justice must be done. A copy of this book should be given to every British citizen, young and old, so they can know the evil their governments have done. People of the USA too, this is about you. Together we should say, not in our names.

John Pilger

25 February 2021

Florian Grosset's book is an extraordinarily moving, almost haunting and powerfully factual depiction of the atrocity committed against the people of the Chagos Islands by the British Government. Her book is a rallying cry to all of us to stand with the islanders until they receive the justice they have fought and died for. Every school, every library should have this book. Please read what was done in your name.

Allen Vincatassin, President, Diego Garcia & Chagos Islands Council

23 February 2021

Unless people can see what happened to us, they will not be able to understand how much we suffered. By illustrating our life story, Grosset has made it become vivid and captivating to all.

Sabrina Jean, Chairperson, Chagos Refugees Group UK

23 February 2021

A very powerful book. Chagossians have been suffering for more than fifty years and until now we are fighting for our fundamental rights. It’s time for the UK government to return our islands. Everyone has the right to stay on their motherland, but not us Chagossians.

Woodrow Phoenix

17 February 2021

A disturbing, infuriating account of almost unbelievable cruelty and exploitation, showing how the lives of ordinary men and women were destroyed for their land which was far more valuable than them. Chagos Betrayal is all the more affecting for being delivered in a sober and careful way by Florian Grosset’s gentle pictures. Her measured recitation of the facts surrounding the dispossession of an entire people from their home is profoundly enraging.

Tom Frost, Leicester Law School

14 February 2021

This is a fantastic graphic novel which powerfully illustrates the injustices the Chagossians have experienced through art and quiet detail. The British State’s treatment of the Chagossians is nothing short of a national disgrace. This book should be required reading for every member of Parliament, as it highlights how the United Kingdom systematically lied and conspired to dispossess an entire people from their homeland.

Kate Evans, author of Threads

11 February 2021

Florian Grosset meticulously depicts a shameful chapter of British colonialism, and reveals the obscenity of the oxymoronic phrase ‘British Indian Ocean Territory’.

Henny Beaumont

4 February 2021

A powerfully moving story of the appalling treatment of the people of Chagos by the British and US government. Beautifully and sensitively drawn. I loved the way it moved between muted sepia tones, contrasting with the full colour spreads, painfully depicting and highlighting the significance of  the loss of this beautiful  land. It's an important story that needs telling.

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