Initially the Chagos Islands story may seem as small as the islands themselves, but these islands are now playing an interesting part in the tech revolution. For those who do not know, the Chagos archipelago is a chain of 65 small coral islands in the Indian Ocean. Currently the only inhabitants are the US military, since the forceful and illegal eviction of the inhabitants in the 1960s by the British who own the islands and have since rented them to the US with the well-known airbase on Diego Garcia.
The original inhabitants of the islands and their descendants, forming a diaspora in Mauritius, the Seychelles and in the UK, are engaged in an ongoing fight to be repatriated, which is to resurface at the Royal Courts of Justice in London this month.
Meanwhile the islands have also been playing virtual host to over 1000 web companies via the .io domain, a popular and fast growing domain name, which stands for ‘Indian Ocean’. This domain was launched in 1997 by the British firm Internet Computer Bureau which operates several top level domains. Given that these top level domains are stated to be, “specifically designated for a particular country, sovereign state or autonomous territory for use to service their community” I asked Marie-Sabrina Jean, chairperson of the UK branch of the Chagossian refugee group what she felt about them. “I find it shameful”, she said, and expressed disbelief that the home to which she has devoted a lifetime to returning to has become a virtual home to so many companies who appear to be oblivious to the refugees’ plight.
The .io domain has become very popular in the start-up communities, many of whom like it for its association with the computer terminology input/output. When I asked some companies why they use that domain it was almost always because it “sounded cool” and was available with the name that they wanted. It seems that most of these tech companies have adopted this domain thoughtlessly rather than through any explicit wish to be associated with supporting the US military in keeping the Chagossians from their homes. It seems unlikely that the brave new world of web start ups would be so callous or openly political as to support the corrupt methods used to ensure the continued use of Diego Garcia as an airbase. This corruption came to light as the Chagos Islands story also featured in the Wiki leaks saga when US diplomatic documents were released from 2009, which stated that the creation of a “marine protected area” would “effectively end the islanders’ resettlement claims”. The ongoing case against the UK government has thus included a Wiki leaks cable being cited in a UK court of law for the very first time.
The Chagossians need huge support to help them gain the right to return to their islands, which the British Government forcibly, illegally and secretively removed them from in order to lease Diego Garcia to the USA for a military base. I hope that the many companies that use the .io domain will take some time to help them.
If you want to help you can start by signing this petition ! https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Give_the_Chagos_islanders_the_right_to_return_home/?cOlEqbb
Marie Sabrina Jean
Louis Clifford Volfrin who was born on Peros Banhos