In the week when Prime Minister Theresa May hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, she was forced to apologise to the Windrush generation for failures in the Home Office which saw countless British citizens threatened with deportation.
This on-going issue had begun months ago when reports emerged of individuals who claimed they had received threatening letters stating that they were in the UK illegally. Consequently, many of these Windrush migrants found themselves unemployed, homeless and were even refused cancer treatment. Additionally, they were forced to retrieve documentation, from as far back as the 1940s, proving their right to remain in the country.
Windrush migrants found themselves unemployed, homeless and were even refused cancer treatment
The ‘Windrush generation’ is a term used to describe individuals who arrived in the UK, between 1948 and 1971, from the Caribbean. The name is used in reference to the Empire Windrush ship which first arrived at Tilbury Docks, Essex, on 22nd June 1948. The British post-war government enacted the 1948 Nationality Act seeking to attract people from the West Indies due to labour shortages in the UK. A large proportion of those who came to the UK were children, so they arrived under their parents’ passports. Many of these Windrush children never applied for separate documentation, but were reassured of their right to remain by the 1971 Immigration Act.
The current issue has occurred as a result of the Home Office’s failure to retain any documentation of these individuals. A whistleblower confirmed that the landing cards of the Windrush generation had been destroyed on the command of Home Office officials, despite prior warnings being made. A series of immigration acts made in recent years required increased immigration checks to be made by the NHS, banks, and employers.
landing cards of the Windrush generation had been destroyed on the command of Home Office officials despite prior warning
Amber Rudd, Home Secretary, described the incident as a “mistake” by the Home Office. She went on to state how this “appalling” situation was the result of her department becoming “too concerned with policy and strategy – and losing sight of the individual”. After initially rejecting a meeting with Caribbean leaders on the issue, the Prime Minister agreed to sit down with the dignitaries and apologised for the fear and confusion caused. Despite apologising, both ministers have blamed the situation on the bureaucratic nature of the Home Office.
The government received a barrage of criticism at Parliament. Shadow Home Secretary Dianne Abbott called for Rudd to “consider her position” as a result of the departmental fault. Conservative MP Anna Soubry further condemned the treatment of the Windrush generation and raised concern for the possible treatment of EU nationals when Britain withdraws from the European Union. No MP voiced their outrage as furiously as David Lammy who dubbed it a “national day of shame”. Lammy lambasted the “punitive immigration regime” which originated from the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ policy. In reference to the governments’ affiliations with extreme right-wing parties, Lammy concluded by stating “if you lay down with dogs, you get fleas!”
“if you lay down with dogs, you get fleas!”
The ‘hostile environment’ policy has been attributed to causing the current Windrush scandal. This policy was enacted by May during her tenure as Home Secretary. Since 2010 the British government had been fixated on radically reducing immigration figures and, consequently, intensified domestic policies. Some of the controversial measures undertaken by May include the deployment of vans commanding illegal immigrants to “go home or face arrest”, and the ‘deport first, appeal later’ policy. It is, however, worth noting that the anti-immigration rhetoric was intensified by both of the main parties during this time.
This scandal has proved greatly embarrassing not only for the government, but also for the nation during a week that was reserved for diplomatic talks with Commonwealth nations. At a time when Britain is in need for allies beyond Europe, this government failure may prove politically catastrophic. The months taken for the government to respond to the Windrush generation, who have lived in grave fear of deportation, is simply unacceptable. The delayed apologies appear, to some, simply laughable. The Conservatives have furiously attempted to shake off the ‘Nasty Party’ reputation by decrying that the party has changed, but incidents such as this add little credibility to their claim. There is a piercing need for accountability to be taken, and only then can efforts be truly made to restore public faith and respect for government.
With the 70th anniversary of the Windrush arrival just around the corner, this story brings fear and distress to a generation who should be receiving commendation for the contribution they have made to this nation.