Last Updated: Monday, 22 September 2014, 21:11 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Mauritius : Overview

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date January 2011
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Mauritius : Overview, January 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4954ce6ab.html [accessed 22 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Last updated January 2011


Environment

Mauritius lies in the Indian Ocean, about 900 kilometres to the east of Madagascar, and is part of the Mascarene Island chain. Beyond the main island of Mauritius, it encompasses St Brandon, Rodrigues, and the Agalega Islands. Additionally, Mauritius claims sovereignty over the Chagos islands, about 1,000 to the north, which Britain forced it to relinquish in 1965 in exchange for its independence. Tourists are drawn to Mauritius for its beaches and rare plant and animal life. The island nation is also famous for having been home to the extinct dodo bird.


Peoples

Main languages: Creole (80.5%), Bhojpuri (12.1%), French (3.4%), English (less than 1%, but official)

Main religions: Hinduism (50%), Christianity (32%), Islam (17%)

Minority groups include Creoles 318,000 (27%), Chinese 35,000 (3%), Franco-Mauritian 23,500 (2%), Chagossians/Ilois 2,000 (0.2%).

India, Africa, Madagascar, France and China provided its peoples; almost 70 per cent are of Indian origin, while those of 'mixed' origins make up most of the rest.

[Note: Figures were taken from the 2000 census and converted to percentages based on the population 1,179,000.]

Creoles and the Ilois are commonly relegated to the bottom of social hierarchies. Other minorities include lower castes (Rajput and Revi Ved) and non-Biharis in the Indo-Mauritian Hindu community.


History

Mauritius was uninhabited until the Dutch established a short-lived settlement in 1598. France occupied the islands in the 18th century, at which time it brought slaves to the Chagos Islands. But it then lost control of Mauritius to the British in 1810. Britain brought many labourers from South Asia during colonial rule. Their descendents, along with migrations from the African continent, Europe, and East Asia, have resulted in a diverse society.

In 1965 Britain insisted that Mauritius relinquish the Chagos Islands as a pre-requisite to its independence in 1968. The UK, in turn, gave the United States the right to build a major military base on Diego Garcia the following year, in completion of a pre-arranged deal involving the mass removal of the indigenous population.


Governance

Mauritius is at the head of the list of African countries in indices of general welfare, and with one of the non-Western world's lowest proportions of people living in absolute poverty, it has, like some other micro-states, managed to combine growth with equity despite great cultural diversity, which to some may seem an unpromising basis for democracy and redistributive practice.

Prosperity and social mobility, and the success of a political movement combining working class and intellectual leadership, have helped to build a sense of Mauritian identity that tolerates multiculturalism. There had been no serious interethnic violence since 1969, but Creole resentment became evident in February 1999, following the death of a popular Creole singer while in police custody. It triggered four days of widespread rioting in Port Louis and other towns. Shops were looted, homes were burnt, police stations were attacked and at least five demonstrators were killed. Most employment chances no longer depend on ethnic favouritism, so mutual fears appear to be declining. Individualism and nationalism are replacing communalism and ethnicity.

All groups have representation in the National Assembly.

Mauritius has built its economy around tourism, sugar production, and textile exports. More recently, it has been branching out into the financial services industry.


Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples

Declining world sugar and textile prices have hurt the predominantly Creole working class of Mauritius. Chagos Islanders continue to suffer from poverty and displacement. They were forcibly removed by the British colonial authorities from their archipelago in the Indian Ocean in the 1970s onwards – with many literally dumped in the slums of Mauritius without compensation. Their tenacious campaign for recognition of their right to return was fought through the UK courts into 2008. After a string of three court victories, in October 2008 Law Lords decided in a 3-2 decision to grant a UK government appeal and deny the Chagossians the right to return home. The Chagos Islanders vowed to continue their struggle through political means and possible suit before the European Court of Human Rights. With the US lease on the base in Diego Garcia, (the largest Chagos Island) expiring in 2016, the fight for justice for the expelled Chagos Islanders continues. A large community of around 2000 living in the UK are renewing their case for return. Britain has previously pledged to relinquish the archipelago called British Indian Ocean Territory to Mauritius, but islanders and their descendants are wary of this move, claiming that Mauritius would not protect the rights of returning islanders and would use the islands for financial gains. The London-based Diego Garcian Society is arguing for the right to self-determination. The case is now before the European Court of Human Rights. In a Foreign Office statement, the UK government made its stance clear and contests the case 'because the arguments against allowing resettlement on the grounds of defence security and feasibility are clear and compelling'. Frustration of the Chagossians is growing with the likelihood of converting the British Indian Ocean Territory into a marine protection area banning any fishing, which used to be the islanders main livelihood before deportation. The chairman of the UK Chagos Support Association claimed that 'the fish would have more rights than us'. Chagossian supporters also see the government's plans for a marine protected area as a means to ban people from Mauritius and Chagos from part of their country.

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