British prime minister Theresa May today apologized for the “anxiety” caused to thousands of Caribbean nationals who up to today were facing possible deportation, despite having lived and worked in the United Kingdom for over 50 years.
The controversy arose on account of new rules introduced by the Conservative government in 2012 designed to make sure that only those with the right to remain in the UK could access the British welfare system and the National Health Service, or to rent a home.
However, in response to the recent developments, a spokeswoman for a group of Barbadian migrants who have returned home from the United Kingdom over the past two decades, today suggested that the threat should never have been posed by the May administration, given the contribution made by these same targeted individuals to the UK’s advancements.
“I find that is it is a horrendous situation for those people,” said Alicia Barker-Grant, public relations officer for the Northern Group for Returning Nationals, a registered charity that was established some 20 years ago to assist returning nationals who were experiencing difficulties in resettling here.
She also suggested that the apology issued today by May during a meeting with regional leaders in London was a little too late in coming, after the British leader had initially turned down the Caribbean’s request for talks.
Britain has since agreed to set up a special task force to immediately seek to regularize the status of the Caribbean-born UK residents who migrated to Britain prior to 1971 and were among the first group of West Indians to make the journey aboard the Windrush in 1948.
Given the rich history between the Caribbean and the UK, Barker-Grant, who managed to get her status regularized when she went to live with her mother in the UK at the age of 12, said the recent deportation threat was rather unfortunate since many of those affected “did not think that this would happen to them at this late stage in life.
“I think it is a horrendous situation for them and I am very saddened for them,” the retired guidance counsellor said.
Thousands of Barbadians and other former Commonwealth citizens arrived in the UK as children following World War II, when their parents travelled to Britain on the Windrush ship at the invitation of the UK government during a period when there was a severe shortage of workers to fill various positions ranging from train conductors to nursing.
Known as the Windrush generation, many have no documents to prove they have been living in the UK before 1971 and had been facing the possibility of detention and deportation to Caribbean countries with which they have no connection.
May today publicly apologized when she met with Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders to discuss the situation for which she has been faced with mounting criticism.
A day earlier her home secretary, Amber Rudd, had delivered an unprecedented apology in parliament for the “appalling” actions her department has taken against the Windrush-era citizens.
“I want to apologize to you today, because we are genuinely sorry for any anxiety that has been caused,” May said, 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,” the prime minister stressed, while pointing out that “some people, through no fault of their own, [were] now needing to be able to evidence their immigration status”.
Amid the simmering controversy, an online petition, which has garnered over 165,000 signatures so far, has been started for an amnesty for anyone who was a minor that arrived in Britain between 1948 and 1971.
However, Barker-Grant has likened May’s decision to meet with the Caribbean officials, who are in London attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit, and to set up a special task force to immediately seek to regularize the status of the Windrush-era citizens, to “locking the stable door after the horse has bolted”, while insisting that “[the threat of deportation] is something that should have never taken place”.
“I don’t think it is something that should have happened. We should not have been put through that as Caribbean people living in the UK who have worked, who have contributed,” she stressed, while recalling that many of them would have worked for essential services in the UK to help rebuild that country from the early 1950s.
“I think that it is sad that it had reached that stage. It should not have,” she stressed. [email protected]