May apologises to
Windrush generation

Prime Minister Theresa May’s apology to Caribbean leaders this week over the Windrush generation scandal marks the end of a six-year period of uncertainty for many migrants to Britain. Some argue they have felt undervalued for even longer than that.

When she was Home Secretary in 2012, Theresa May introduced a system of deterrents for those who had ‘no right to be here’. She created what she termed ‘a hostile environment’, effectively putting the responsibility to check an immigrant’s status into the hands of bank managers, GPs, landlords and teachers.

The threat of fines for non-compliance meant that some organisations have been put off engaging at all with foreign nationals, even if their status is legal.

And, it appears in the case of the Home Office’s treatment of the Windrush generation, they’ve forgotten recent history and become over-zealous enforcing this ‘hostile environment’, even on those British citizens originally from countries in the West Indies, who have lived here for more than 50 years.

In 1948, the first Caribbean passengers arrived on the Empire Windrush ship. Many of them had fought for Britain during World War II, and were invited to live in the ‘mother country’ to assist with labour shortages. They were met with racism and hostility. Their children, who may not have had their own passport, were never formally naturalised, and some may have never applied for a British passport.

Under the 1971 Immigration Act, all Commonwealth citizens already living in the UK were granted indefinite leave to remain.

However, the Home Office did not keep a record of this nor issue any paperwork confirming it, meaning it is difficult for these individuals to now prove they are in the UK legally.

The controversy first came to light in January this year. Ironically, it was during a House of Lords debate on how the government should commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Windrush’s arrival and the positive contribution the West Indian population has made to this country.

Lord Faulkner raised the issue of Paulette Wilson, a 61 year old who came to the UK from Jamaica as a girl in 1968, went to school here and has a British daughter and grandchild. She has worked and paid taxes and National Insurance for most of her life, and even had a job as a cook in the House of Commons at Westminster.

Wilson was sent a letter from the Home Office requesting her to register each month at a local immigration centre. While she was there, officials declared that she was an illegal immigrant, sent her directly to the Yarl’s Wood removal complex and told her that she would be deported to Jamaica, even though she had not been there since she was 11 years old.

After a week in custody, Wilson was moved to Heathrow and was about to be sent away on a flight to Jamaica before her local MP intervened. Wilson has lost her benefits for two years and now relies on her daughter for financial support.

Three months on, the MP David Lammy, in a passionate speech to the House of Commons on Monday, called the situation ‘a national disgrace‘. He urged the Home Office to rectify it immediately and cancel any deportations that had been planned.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd apologised and announced the creation of a new team, comprising 20 staff, who will ensure that Commonwealth-born long-term UK residents will no longer be classified as being in the UK illegally. She also promised that cases would be resolved within two weeks and application fees would be waived.

Speaking at Downing Street earlier today, the PM confirmed: ‘Those who arrived from the Caribbean before 1973 and lived here permanently without significant periods of time away in the last 30 years have the right to remain in the UK.

‘As do the vast majority of long-term residents who arrived later, and I don’t want anybody to be in any doubt about their right to remain here in the United Kingdom.’

While this U-turn has been welcomed across the political parties, it does not do anything to reassure those migrants who are here legally, as the ‘hostile environment’ can still cause them difficulties in finding a job, renting a flat, opening a bank account, driving a car, receiving NHS medical treatment, or sending their children to school.

 

Picture credit: Drop of Light/Shutterstock.com

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