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Last Updated: Monday, 18 April 2005, 17:08 GMT 18:08 UK
Islanders win right for legal bid
Diego Garcians
Many of the islanders got temporary accommodation near Gatwick
A group of Indian Ocean islanders forced to leave their homes have won permission to fight a legal battle for housing and social benefits in the UK.

The islanders, from Diego Garcia in the Chagos Islands, had to leave the islands for Mauritius in 1971 when it was given to the US as a military base.

Many ended up in the UK and have settled near Gatwick Airport in Sussex, when they landed in the country.

On Monday they won permission to bring a High Court challenge for benefits.

'Historical ties'

They will be able to argue they should have the right to housing and social benefits including jobseeker's allowance.

Hundreds of the Diego Garcians, who have UK passports, have left Mauritius in recent years, claiming they were discriminated against.

During the autumn of 2004 several dozen of the islanders flew into Gatwick, with many of them left living temporarily at the airport for several days until they were housed.

Diego Garcia
Diego Garcia became a military base in the 1970s

The islanders have previously been denied access to the benefits system in the UK on the basis they were not "habitually resident" in the country.

Government lawyers argued in court that the Diego Garcians had already been compensated for the loss of their islands and were not entitled to special treatment over benefits.

But lawyers acting for 40 Chagossians said they should be treated like Irish citizens, who are entitled to benefits in the UK because of the historical ties between the two nations.

Mr Justice Newman said rules denying benefits to those who had not lived in the UK for any length of time were aimed at those with "tenouous connections" to the UK, who might be "benefit tourists".

He said a failure to treat them the same as Irish people could give rise to race discrimination and ruled they should be allowed to make a full application for judicial review.

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