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Island's exiles touch down in UK

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Island's exiles touch down in UK

Dozens of displaced people from the tiny island of Diego Garcia landed at Gatwick airport on Friday seeking "a better future".

The 45 islanders, who are UK citizens, flew from Mauritius where they have lived since the UK leased Diego Garcia to the US navy in the late 1960s.

They are now asking West Sussex County Council for support, but the council says it has no obligation to help them.

Almost 100 islanders have arrived in the UK in the past two years.

They want to return to Diego Garcia but cannot get permission from the UK or US governments.

On arrival, some expressed anger at the way they have been treated by the British government.

Others looked forward to a better future in England, away from the poverty of Mauritius.

Roddy Antoine, 25, hopes to get a job as a French teacher and bring other family members from Mauritius.

He said: "I am here to open the door for my family. In Mauritius I lived with my brother, my sisters, my aunt and her four kids.

"Coming to England is a new future for me, and later for my family."

He has a French degree and wants to teach in the UK, he said.

'Sympathetic'

The Diego Garcians will stay at Gatwick airport until they can find a place to live.

West Sussex council, which has supported other exiles from the island, says it can only provide care for those with specific needs such as young children.

A council spokeswoman said: "We are sympathetic to the position they are in, but we are not under a duty to offer them anything.

"We simply cannot afford to carry on offering this kind of support."

She said meetings have been held with government departments, including the Foreign Office, but the council has been "passed from pillar to post".

The Foreign Office said the decision lies entirely with the local authority.

"It is not a matter in which the Foreign Office has any standing," a spokesman said.

Legal battle

The islands are threatening a legal challenge if they are refused support.

Jimmy Gee, from the Brighton-based Rights Foundation, says he has already contacted a solicitor and is preparing for a legal fight.

"It is a difference of opinion between the authorities and the islanders. We will have to let the courts decide," he said.

After helping 69 islanders find housing and jobs, West Sussex council refused to help a group of 30 islanders who arrived in June 2003.

But the group launched a legal challenge, and the High Court ruled the council did have a duty to help them.

The latest group of islanders may face a similar legal battle.

Story from BBC NEWS:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/engl...ies/3727524.stm

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