In over forty years of exile, the people of the Chagos Islands have yet to see justice. Now, the hopes of the Chagossians are pinned to a study commissioned by the U.K. government—a study the Chagossians hope will be the answer they need to take them home.

The Chagossians are the indigenous people of the Chagos Islands or British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) – a chain of over 50 islands in the Indian Ocean. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Chagossians were forcibly removed from their homeland by the U.K. and U.S. governments and dropped on the shores of the Seychelles and Mauritius with no money or support. A U.S. military base was established on the island of Diego Garcia and is today one of the most strategically important U.S. military bases in the world.


The U.K.-commissioned feasibility study – a draft of which was released this November – is intended to help determine whether resettlement is feasible. In addition to the study the U.S. and U.K. governments have just entered into a two-year negotiation period on whether to extend the informal lease of Diego Garcia to the U.S., an agreement that holds considerable bearing on whether the Chagossians might return home.

The draft feasibility study focuses largely on the financial cost and environmental impacts of resettlement. Three options were considered: large-scale resettlement of approximately 1,500 Chagossians at about £413.9 million (roughly $625.9 million) over six years, resettlement of around 500 people at £106.9 million (roughly $161.4 million) over four years and resettlement of 150 people at £62.9 million (roughly $95.1 million) over three years.

While the costs that would be incurred through resettlement are explained in great detail, the ways in which the costs can be offset are mentioned only in passing. Below are three important ways that the costs of resettlement could be managed in order to allow Chagossians to return home and achieve at least some semblance of justice.

1)  Eco-tourism

The Chagos Islands are part of what is currently the largest no-take marine protected area in the world so a high-end eco-tourism industry could be very lucrative for the Chagossians. The island country of Palau derives a majority of its annual GDP from the tourism and eco-tourism industry at millions per year. The Chagos Islands could be set up as prime destinations for those interested in exploring islands with little human influence. This could generate a strong source of income for the Chagossians and offer many areas for employment.

2)  .io

One of the largest potential “cash crops” for the Chagossians is the .io domain name that is associated with the Indian Ocean territory and which has become popular with tech companies. The domain name of .tv brings millions of dollars per year to the people of Tuvalu. Likewise, profits from .me benefit the people of Montenegro. Currently, the .io profits are going to the U.K. government but if the Chagossians were able to return, the profits would go to them – potentially providing millions of dollars to support resettlement.

3)  Reparations

Possibly the single most important thing to consider when looking at the potential costs for resettlement of the Chagossian people to their homelands is the reparations due to them for their decades of undue suffering. This should be central to the conversation on how to pay for and sustain a resettlement of the islands.

A study conducted by anthropologist and American University professor, David Vine, Rutgers University Professor of Law and Economics, Philip Harvey, and Senior Research Associate at Johns Hopkins University, S. Wojciech Sokolowski found that damages owed to the Chagossian people fall between $5.4 billion and $13.2 billion from 1970-2008.

The highest cost estimate of the feasibility study found that large-scale resettlement of around 1,500 people would cost approximately $625.9 million over six years. For the roughly 5,000 Chagossians living today – a people who were exiled from their homes in a brutal campaign, who lost their land, their income, the connection to their ancestors buried on the islands, and their cultural heritage, and who have suffered for decades in exile, often in extreme poverty – $625.9 million seems a small price to pay for justice.

As negotiations between the U.K. and the U.S. governments regarding the U.S. military base begin, it is imperative that U.S. officials work a resettlement option into the agreement. The U.S. government has yet to take any responsibility or provide compensation for the injustice done to the islanders. While the violence committed against the Chagossians cannot be undone, the U.S. government can take steps toward mitigation of those crimes. This includes full resettlement of all of the Chagossian people who wish to return. This also includes substantial reparations through resettlement assistance and continued aid as the islanders rebuild their communities.

Rohricht is a graduate student in the Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs program in the School of International Service at American University.