EXILE: The 'sagrin' of Chagossian Lisette Talate

I didn't have the privilege of knowing Lisette Talate very well, but I did have the honour to have her as my guest on a Mauritian radio programme seven years ago.
However, two things struck me about Lisette. First, she was very petite, almost fragile in nature and second, there was not even a flicker of a smile on her face throughout the whole interview. It is only now that I have learned something of the history of Chagossians that I understand why she did not smile. She was carrying the heavy weight of 'sagrin' – a 'sagrin' from which she never recovered.
Her sadness began when Lisette was forced out of her homeland in the Chagos Archipelago. It was brutally reinforced when her two children died a few months later, aged eight years and ten months. “They died of sadness and the doctor said he could not treat sadness,” Lisette told the campaigning journalist John Pilger in 2004.  
Lisette and Pilger met again one frosty morning in October 2008 in London. She was there on a mission. Five Law Lords had heard the case concerning the Chagossians' right of return to their homeland after Jack Straw, the then British Foreign Secretary, used an Order in Council in 2004 to forbid anyone having the right of abode in the Chagos Islands, part of the British Indian Ocean Territory. Alas, the case went 3-2 in favour of the UK Government. Lord Hoffman, who ruled against the Chagossians, used this much-quoted remark in his judgement: “The right of abode is a creature of the law. The law gives it and the law may take it away.”
Writing in the New Statesman a few weeks later about Lisette, John Pilger warned the Law Lord: “Never forget, Lord Hoffmann, that she, too, will die of sadness.”
And so it has come to pass. Lisette at the age of 70 has gone – gone for ever. Not many native islanders of the Chagos islands now survive. But a few things remain of Lisette – and one of them is her testament to Pilger. She told him how the dogs on her Indian Ocean island, Diego Garcia, now used as a US military base were gassed, and how they barked and whimpered as they were being put down. She then recalled how she and her family were forced to lie on fertiliser made from bird excrement during the boat journey to Port Louis. Her memories were as vivid as many of the other Chagossians, who still hope that one day they, their children and grandchildren will be allowed to return to their beautiful islands.
The end of 2011 has not been very kind to the Chagossian people in Mauritius. Along with Lisette, four other native islanders have passed away in the last three weeks of December. Four more lived experiences gone for ever.  
Then you have to consider that while the native islanders were alive and living in exile, British Foreign Office officials cooked up a “fiction” that the Chagossians only existed as a “floating population” in order to hide their real history, which dates back to the late 18th century. The sheer audacity of it! Just imagine what would have happened if there were no native islanders left to tell their stories. Luckily their history has been recorded. The Chagos dirty file is no longer a secret. Furthermore, the 'sagrin' of the Chagossians is now an expression known to many because it has been written about by academics such as Laura Jeffery and David Vine.
Plainly, because Lord Hoffman and others do not understand the injustice and the torment of the Chagossian people, so they will definitely not understand the 'sagrin' that afflicted Lisette for more than 40 years of exile. Hoffman and his likes lack moral worth or the sense of good, we might say. But above all I think those who have perpetuated the exile of the Chagos Islanders – the three Law Lords, successive UK Foreign Secretaries with the honourable exception of the late Robin Cook, and faceless Foreign & Commonwealth Office officials – lack soul, and soul is not given or taken away. You either have it or you don't…