The Chagos Betrayal review – how Britain robbed an island and made its people dissappear

We have a hard-hitting graphic novel this week from Myriad Editions – The Chagos Betrayal by Florian Grosset. During the cold war, the US government sought to establish an overseas military presence in the Indian Ocean. Between 1965 and 1973 the inhabitants of the Chagos archipelago were forcibly removed from their homeland and dumped in Mauritius and Seychelles. Diego Garcia, the largest island, was leased to the USA by the UK to accommodate the largest US military air base outside the US mainland. The agreement continues until 2036.

Florian Grosset – an artist who grew up in Mauritius – give an uncompromising look into the forced removal of the Chagos natives from their homeland and their subsequent difficulties in life afterwards. We get a view of the first generation of slaves and their descendants who to this day fight for their right to return. There is a stark comparison between how Diego Garcia once looked as an almost island paradise and its later state of dilapidated island homes and concrete military complexes.

The island residents are confined to disused prison cells that are neighboured to blocks containing criminals in very substandard conditions and parents are forced to make empty promises to the children that families will be reunited. The lengths that the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) went to in order to force the remaining Chagossians of their islands is truly shocking. This included embargos that prevented ships from delivering supplies, having no assigned medical workers, making jobs impossible to find with the closure of the plantations and – most disturbing – having the pets dogs of the island families round-up and killed. Grosset achieves a great balance between presenting a historical account and underlying just how awful the treatment the Chagossians received was.

Grosset’s art is also key in emphasising the harsh situation. It always maintains a realistic style with everything looking grounded in reality and she does not hold back when it comes to depicting the suffering on hand. What really helps though is her use of colouring, with the initial bright island colours becoming slowly more murky leading to the point where the Chagossians are kept at Gatwick Airport where everything at this point has taken on a drab tone.

The Chagos Betrayal works as both a historical document and as an enthralling graphic novel. A very promising debut from Florian Grosset who is definitely one to watch.

The Chagos Betrayal: How Britain Robbed an Island and Made Its People Disappear is out now from Myriad Editions
(9781912408672, p/b, £16.99)

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