Mauritius: Marie Lisette Talate

Literacy is important to the people’s struggles but resilience is key for any nation to survive.

— Marie Lisette Talate

Marie Lisette Talate was born on Diego Garcia Island in 1941. She lived on that island for 30 years with her husband and children. In 1972 they were forcefully removed to Mauritius by British forces. Through her efforts together with other human rights activists the removals were nullified in November 2000 by a British high court – only to be legalized once more four years later.

Diego Garcia is the main island of the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. The 65 islands, part of the United Kingdom, are beautiful and said to be one of the last paradises on earth. The people of the islands are Chagossians, descendents of a leper colony and of former African slaves. Unfortunately, in 1972 the whole Archipelago had to be given up and the inhabitants were forcefully removed from the modesty of their homes to Mauritius. Their removal was not for the improvement of their livelihood but rather to pave the way for an air and navy base on Diego Garcia. Their removal was not discussed with them. Their livestock, as well as pets such as dogs, were rounded up and gassed. They were not given time to collect, organize and pack their belongings. There were no plans made for decent accommodation on their arrival on Mauritius. Marie Lisette Talate, like most refugees, lived in a shack made of rusty tin sheets. Approximately 14 people lived in a two-room house. Together with other Chagossians, Marie Lisette established and led the Chagos Refugees Group to fight the injustice that had rendered their population homeless and destitute. She worked hard in support of Islanders' court cases at different levels. What makes her work unique is the fact that she cannot write but has led notable demonstrations and campaigns. The most effective and visible demonstrations she organized were held outside the British High Commission on the streets of Port-Louis between 1973 and 2000. On one occasion Marie Lisette led a protest that camped outside the High Commission for two weeks. These campaigns were frightening because the protesters would go hungry for days. “It was difficult enough for Chagossians to survive, but going on hunger strike when already hungry was dangerous and a health hazard."

Chagos Refugees Group