“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,” Barbados’ High Commissioner to the UK Guy Hewitt was quoted last week as telling the British newspaper, the Guardian.
We would have rather that there was never the need for any British apology, given the contribution many of our citizens have made and continue to make to the development of the United Kingdom and the unparalleled historical relationship that would have ensured that while the naval strings of many of our citizens are eternally buried here, their thinking, teachings and tastes have been distinctly British.
However, an apology was issued today from no less a person than the UK prime minister, Theresa May, and despite the obvious hurt that has emanated from her government’s attempted crackdown on undocumented UK immigrants – many of whom would have tirelessly toiled in the trenches across Britain prior to, as well as hitherto, 1971 on behalf of the Mother country – we are nonetheless inclined to accept Ms May’s statement of regret as issued today.
“I want to apologize to you today. Because we are genuinely sorry for any anxiety that has been caused,” she said during talks with Caribbean leaders in London, adding, “I want to dispel any impression that my government is in some sense clamping down on Commonwealth citizens, particularly those from the Caribbean”.
“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,” Ms May assured.
Indeed it is equally heartening to hear the pledges now being made by Ms May and her home secretary Amber Rudd on behalf of the Conservative government in the wake of the controversy which erupted over new rules which were aimed at ensuring that only those with the right to remain in the UK could access the welfare system and the National Health Service.
Ironically, many of the Caribbean nationals who went to Britain between 1948, when the ship Windrush landed with the first group of West Indian immigrants, up to the 1960s “do not have any connection with the country of their birth, would have lived in the UK their entire lives and worked very hard towards the advancement of the UK”, as Antigua and Barbuda’s prime minister Gaston Browne would have pointed out this week.
Furthermore, these immigrants would have produced children who are both British-born and bred, so to even suggest that they be deported at this stage would be to separate a generation of British citizens from their parents and grandparents.
Certainly, it does not sit right therefore for these British citizens to be denied access to health care and services at this stage of their lives when they perhaps need them most and knowing full well that many of them would have laboured as teachers, nurses etc. to ensure that the integrity of the said British system was maintained.
And to think that all of a sudden they are to be treated no better than common criminals to be hauled up and sent back indignantly from whence they came.
Therefore, while we accept Ms May’s apology, we believe that it is simply not enough as we look forward to the much-needed regulation of the status of the Windrush-era citizens – lest any future administration should ever think to question their legitimacy ever again.
The British Home Secretary has promised as much.
Like her, we are “very concerned” about the way in which the Windrush generation have been treated by a Home Office that has become “too concerned with policy and strategy and sometimes loses sight of the individual”, in the recent past.
Therefore, we look forward to the promised setting up of a new task force with the aim of ensuring that undocumented Windrush-era citizens receive within two weeks the necessary paperwork to confirm their immigration status.
It is the very least that should be done, and expeditiously.