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South Asia :: British Indian Ocean Territory Print
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BRITISH INDIAN OCEAN TERRITORY
  • Introduction :: British Indian Ocean Territory
  • Background field listing

    Formerly administered as part of the British Crown Colony of Mauritius, the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) was established as an overseas territory of the UK in 1965. A number of the islands of the territory were later transferred to the Seychelles when it attained independence in 1976. Subsequently, BIOT has consisted only of the six main island groups comprising the Chagos Archipelago. Only Diego Garcia, the largest and most southerly of the islands, is inhabited. It contains a joint UK-US naval support facility and hosts one of four dedicated ground antennas that assist in the operation of the Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation system (the others are on Kwajalein (Marshall Islands), at Cape Canaveral, Florida (US), and on Ascension Island (Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha)). The US Air Force also operates a telescope array on Diego Garcia as part of the Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance System (GEODSS) for tracking orbital debris, which can be a hazard to spacecraft and astronauts.

    Between 1967 and 1973, former agricultural workers, earlier residents in the islands, were relocated primarily to Mauritius, but also to the Seychelles. Negotiations between 1971 and 1982 resulted in the establishment of a trust fund by the British Government as compensation for the displaced islanders, known as Chagossians. Beginning in 1998, the islanders pursued a series of lawsuits against the British Government seeking further compensation and the right to return to the territory. In 2006 and 2007, British court rulings invalidated the immigration policies contained in the 2004 BIOT Constitution Order that had excluded the islanders from the archipelago, but upheld the special military status of Diego Garcia. In 2008, the House of Lords, as the final court of appeal in the UK, ruled in favor of the British Government by overturning the lower court rulings and finding no right of return for the Chagossians. In March 2015, the Permanent Court of Arbitration unanimously held that the marine protected area (MPA) that the UK declared around the Chagos Archipelago in April 2010 was in violation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

  • Geography :: British Indian Ocean Territory
  • Location field listing
    archipelago in the Indian Ocean, south of India, about halfway between Africa and Indonesia
    Geographic coordinates field listing
    6 00 S, 71 30 E;note - Diego Garcia 7 20 S, 72 25 E
    Map references field listing
    Political Map of the World
    Area field listing
    total: 60 sq km
    land: 60 sq km (44 Diego Garcia)
    water: 54,340 sq km
    note: includes the entire Chagos Archipelago of 55 islands
    country comparison to the world: 230
    Area - comparative field listing
    land area is about one-third the size of Washington, DC
    Land boundaries field listing
    0 km
    Coastline field listing
    698 km
    Maritime claims field listing
    territorial sea: 12 nm
    Environment (Protection and Preservation) Zone: 200 nm
    Climate field listing
    tropical marine; hot, humid, moderated by trade winds
    Terrain field listing
    flat and low (most areas do not exceed two m in elevation)
    Elevation field listing
    lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m
    highest point: ocean-side dunes on Diego Garcia 9 m
    Natural resources field listing
    coconuts, fish, sugarcane
    Land use field listing
    agricultural land: 0% (2011 est.)
    arable land: 0% (2011 est.) / permanent crops: 0% (2011 est.) / permanent pasture: 0% (2011 est.)
    forest: 0% (2011 est.)
    other: 100% (2011 est.)
    Natural hazards field listing
    none; located outside routes of Indian Ocean cyclones
    Environment - current issues field listing
    wastewater discharge into the lagoon on Diego Garcia
    Geography - note field listing

    note 1: archipelago of 55 islands; Diego Garcia, the largest and southernmost island, occupies a strategic location in the central Indian Ocean; the island is the site of a joint US-UK military facility

    note 2: Diego Garcia is the only inhabited island of the BIOT and one of only two British territories where traffic drives on the right, the other being Gibraltar

  • People and Society :: British Indian Ocean Territory
  • Population field listing
    no indigenous inhabitants

    note: approximately 1,200 former agricultural workers resident in the Chagos Archipelago, often referred to as Chagossians or Ilois, were relocated to Mauritius and the Seychelles in the 1960s and 1970s; approximately 3,000 UK and US military personnel and civilian contractors living on the island of Diego Garcia (2018)

  • Government :: British Indian Ocean Territory
  • Country name field listing
    conventional long form: British Indian Ocean Territory
    conventional short form: none
    abbreviation: BIOT
    etymology: self-descriptive name specifying the territory's affiliation and location
    Dependency status field listing
    overseas territory of the UK; administered by a commissioner, resident in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London
    Executive branch field listing
    chief of state: Queen ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952)
    head of government: Commissioner Dr. Peter HAYES (since 17 October 2012); Administrator John MCMANUS (since April 2011); note - both reside in the UK and are represented by the officer commanding British Forces on Diego Garcia
    cabinet: NA
    elections/appointments: the monarchy is hereditary; commissioner and administrator appointed by the monarch
    International organization participation field listing
    UPU
    Diplomatic representation in the US field listing
    none (overseas territory of the UK)
    Diplomatic representation from the US field listing
    none (overseas territory of the UK)
    Flag description field listing
    white with six blue wavy horizontal stripes; the flag of the UK is in the upper hoist-side quadrant; the striped section bears a palm tree and yellow crown (the symbols of the territory) centered on the outer half of the flag; the wavy stripes represent the Indian Ocean; although not officially described, the six blue stripes may stand for the six main atolls of the archipelago
  • Economy :: British Indian Ocean Territory
  • Economy - overview field listing
    All economic activity is concentrated on the largest island of Diego Garcia, where a joint UK-US military facility is located. Construction projects and various services needed to support the military installation are performed by military and contract employees from the UK, Mauritius, the Philippines, and the US. Some of the natural resources found in this territory include coconuts, fish, and sugarcane.
    Exchange rates field listing

    the US dollar is used

  • Communications :: British Indian Ocean Territory
  • Telephone system field listing
    general assessment: separate facilities for military and public needs are available (2015)
    domestic: all commercial telephone services are available, including connection to the Internet (2015)
    international: country code (Diego Garcia) - 246; international telephone service is carried by satellite (2015)
    Broadcast media field listing
    Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) broadcasts over 3 separate frequencies for US and UK military personnel stationed on the islands (2009)
    Internet country code field listing
    .io
    Communications - note field listing
    Diego Garcia hosts one of four dedicated ground antennas that assist in the operation of the Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation system (the others are on Kwajalein (Marshall Islands), at Cape Canaveral, Florida (US), and on Ascension Island (Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha))
  • Transportation :: British Indian Ocean Territory
  • Airports field listing
    1 (2013)
    country comparison to the world: 215
    Airports - with paved runways field listing
    total: 1 (2017)
    over 3,047 m: 1 (2017)
    Roadways field listing

    note: short section of paved road between port and airfield on Diego Garcia

    Ports and terminals field listing
    major seaport(s): Diego Garcia
  • Military and Security :: British Indian Ocean Territory
  • Military branches field listing
    no regular military forces (2014)
    Military - note field listing
    defense is the responsibility of the UK; in November 2016, the UK extended the US lease on Diego Garcia for 20 years; the lease now expires in December 2036
  • Transnational Issues :: British Indian Ocean Territory
  • Disputes - international field listing

    Mauritius and Seychelles claim the Chagos Islands; negotiations between 1971 and 1982 resulted in the establishment of a trust fund by the British Government as compensation for the displaced islanders, known as Chagossians, who were evicted between 1967-73; in 2001, the former inhabitants of the archipelago were granted UK citizenship and the right of return; in 2006 and 2007, British court rulings invalidated the immigration policies contained in the 2004 BIOT Constitution Order that had excluded the islanders from the archipelago; in 2008 a House of Lords' decision overturned lower court rulings, once again denying the right of return to Chagossians; in addition, the UK created the world's largest marine protection area around the Chagos islands prohibiting the extraction of any natural resources therein