BBC: Diego Garcia: The tropical island ‘hell’ for dozens of stranded migrants

BBC News: Dozens of migrants have been stranded for months on a tiny British territory in the Indian Ocean after being rescued from their struggling fishing boat.

They are desperate to leave for a safe place, describing conditions as hellish, but the unusual legal status of the island has left them feeling frightened and helpless.

All names of the migrants have been changed

Early one morning in October 2021, a fishing boat was spotted struggling near the island of Diego Garcia.

The vessel immediately attracted the attention of the island’s authorities – the territory hosts a secretive UK-US military base, hundreds of miles away from any other population, and unauthorised visitors are forbidden.

It soon became clear that the 89 people on board – Sri Lankan Tamils who said they were fleeing persecution – weren’t actually intending to land on the island.

They had planned to seek asylum in Canada, a claim backed up by maps, diary entries and GPS data on board, before rough weather and engine problems pulled them off course.

As the boat ran into trouble, one man on board said they started looking for the nearest place of safety. “We saw a bit of light and started sailing towards Diego Garcia,” he told the BBC.

A Royal Navy ship escorted the boat to land, and the group were put into temporary accommodation.

That was 20 months ago. And communication between officials on the island and London gives clues as to why the migrants – some of whom have since attempted suicide due to their dire situation – are still there.

Communications in the immediate aftermath of their arrival were obtained through a Freedom of Information request to the Foreign Office by a lawyer representing some of the migrants, and shared with the BBC. They show officials wrestling with what to do about the “unprecedented development”.

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