The British Indian Ocean Territory is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom that sits in the middle of the Indian Ocean between Africa and Indonesia. The territory is an archipelago that consists of about 2,300 islands, with the largest being Diego Garcia. This latter island is a haven for joint UK and United States military facilities. The territory is home to about 3,500 people; half are military personnel and the other half are civilian contractors.
The British Indian Ocean Territory is off limits to tourists.
The climate in the British Indian Ocean Territory is hot and humid. The islands are hit by moderate trade winds year-round.
The archipelago of the British Indian Ocean Territory, known as the Chagos Archipelago, was first discovered by Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in the early 1500s. The French were the first to claim the islands in the early 19th century. They made it part of the Mauritius colony. When the British captured Mauritius in 1810, the archipelago was ceded over to the British. During the late 19th century, agricultural workers migrated to the main island of Diego Garcia to work the copra (coconut meat) plantations.
In 1965, the United Kingdom split the Chagos archipelago from Mauritius and Seychelles to form the British Indian Ocean Territory. The purpose was to create a territory that could be used to construct military facilities for the benefit of the UK and the U.S. In 1966, the British purchased the privately-owned copra plantations, closed them, and relocated the population of Chagossians and Ilois (Creole speaking Africans) living in Diego Garcia to Mauritius. Some 2,000 people were relocated. In 1971, the British leased part of the island to the Americans. Both countries began building large air and naval bases on Diego Garcia.
In the 1980s, Mauritius and Seychelles both claimed sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory, claiming it was illegal under international law in 1965 to dismember a country before granting independence.
In recent years, the Ilois have won court rulings that legally permit them to visit Diego Garcia to tend to the graves of ancestors. English courts have also ruled the Ilois have a right to return and live in Diego Garcia.