Barbadian and other Caribbean-born British residents who have been facing deportation despite having lived in the United Kingdom for 50 years, were handed a reprieve today as the British government made a dramatic about turn.
In the face of mounting criticism, Theresa May, the British prime minister, reversed an earlier decision and agreed to meet with 12 Caribbean heads of government on the situation.
At the same time, the home secretary delivered an unprecedented apology in parliament for the “appalling” actions her department has taken against the so-called Windrush-era citizens.
In announcing the establishment of a 20-member team dedicated to ensuring that Commonwealth-born long-term UK residents are no longer classified as illegal immigrants, Amber Rudd admitted the home office had “lost sight of individuals” and had become “too concerned with policy”.
“Frankly, how they have been treated has been wrong – has been appalling – and I am sorry. That is why I am setting up a new area in my department to ensure that we have a completely new approach to how their situation is regularized.
“I am concerned that the home office has become too concerned with policy and strategy and sometimes loses sight of the individual. This is about individuals, and we have heard the individual stories, some of which have been terrible to hear,” Rudd told parliamentarians during an emotional debate which took place in response to an urgent question called by Labour parliamentarian David Lammy who said it was “inhumane and cruel” for so many in the Windrush generation “to have suffered so long in this condition”.
“This is a day of national shame and it has come about because of a hostile environment policy that was begun under the prime minister. Let us call it as it is. If you lay down with dogs, you get fleas, and that is what has happened with this far-right rhetoric in this country,” Lammy said.
“Can she [Rudd] tell the house how many have been detained as prisoners in their own country? Can she tell us how many have been denied health care under the National Health Service, how many have been denied pensions and how many have lost their jobs?” he asked.
At issue is the hostile environment immigration policy – formally called Operation Nexus – introduced in 2012 by prime minister Theresa May when she was home secretary.
It requires employers, landlords, private sector workers, national health service staff and other public servants to check a person’s status before they can offer them a job, housing, health care or other support, leading to legal problems for those who do not have documentary proof of their right to live in the UK.
It has impacted thousands of Barbadian and Caribbean-born UK residents who had accompanied their parents and siblings, who were invited by the British after World War II to help rebuild the country.
Known as the Windrush generation, many have no documents to prove they have been living in the UK before 1971, some have lost their jobs and many face detention and deportation to Caribbean countries with which they have no connection.
“I am dismayed that people who gave their all to Britain could be seemingly discarded so matter-of-factly,” Barbados’ High Commissioner to the UK Guy Hewitt was quoted last week as telling the British newspaper, the Guardian.
“It is regrettable to find people who came in that era facing a struggle to remain in this country, which should be their right. It’s an awful predicament. Seventy years after Windrush, we are again facing a new wave of hostility. This is about people saying, as they said 70 years ago, ‘Go back home.’ It is not good enough for people who gave their lives to this country to be treated like this,” Hewitt stressed.
The Barbadian was among Caribbean Community (CARICOM) diplomats who issued a statement last Thursday calling on London to be more considerate in its treatment of these long-term UK residents.
Regional leaders had also been seeking a meeting with May during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting which opened in London earlier today.
Downing Street had refused to schedule the meeting, with Hewitt describing the rebuffal as “most unfortunate”.
However, May performed an about-turn today, with her spokesman announcing the prime minister had agreed to set up a meeting after all, and that she “deeply values” the contribution the Windrush generation had made to Britain’s development.
Over 140 members of parliament from all parties had earlier written to May, expressing concern about the incorrect classification of the long-term British residents as “illegal immigrants” and calling on her to find a “swift resolution of this growing crisis”.
Her communities secretary Sajid Javid said he was “deeply concerned” about the Windrush scandal, adding that “this should not happen to people who have been longstanding pillars of our community”. (BT)