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Hewitt’s reflections on Windrush Scandal

by Barbados Today Traffic
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Although unknown as a campaign strategist in Barbados, Guy Hewitt is no political neophyte. He spoke to Barbados TODAY on his leadership in the Windrush scandal that garnered him international recognition.

Hewitt explained that the Windrush scandal was a consequence of the 2012 ill-conceived British immigration policy “to create a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants”. He explained that the outcome of this was that many “elderly, West Indian-born, long-term residents in Britain got shut out of the system.”

Due to a lack of documentation to confirm their status, these Caribbean-born migrants, many Barbadian, were denied the right to work, denied access to their bank accounts, and denied healthcare and other state benefits. The real tragedy was that these undocumented, elderly persons were “not treated as anomalies to be regularised” but as Hewitt explained, as “illegal immigrants”.

The former high commissioner in London noted: “Thankfully, this tale of terror took a dramatic turn for the better, which seemed like a modern-day miracle.” All this unfolded in April 2018 when in less than a week, the plight of the Windrush generation, a story that he said, “was for too long begging for attention became front-page news and in the process won the hearts of a nation and finally engaged the minds of the British Government.”

Hewitt indicated that it was clear that traditional diplomacy was working against the Caribbean. The British government was stalling; trying to defer dealing with the Windrush scandal until after the April 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in London, April 16-20, 2018.

However, aware that the previous impasse between the Caribbean and Britain on the Air Passenger Duty was only resolved at the 2013 Commonwealth Summit in Sri Lanka, Hewitt was unrelenting.

In the lead-up to the 2018 Commonwealth Summit, Hewitt brought together a “coalition of the willing” as he called it. The core team included: Guyana-born Lord Ouseley (Herman), acclaimed for his work on racial equality; St Kitts and Nevis High Commissioner, Professor Kevin Isaac; David Lammy, Labour MP; journalists Gary Younge (Barbadian by descent) and Amelia Gentleman (2018 journalist of the year for her Windrush work); and civil society leaders. Together, they executed the Windrush scandal campaign that created a
“perfect storm”.

Utilising “guerrilla diplomacy” Hewitt coordinated with his fellow Caribbean high commissioners and worked closely with Westminster parliamentarians. He also reached out to key non-state actors including the media, Diaspora groups, Caribbean university students’ associations, and the Commission for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, making them aware of the rights abuses.

Hewitt’s unrelenting media assault and a well-coordinated press briefing seven days before the Commonwealth Heads of Government had the desired effect. Hewitt noted: “The media picked up the urgency and energy from the victims, the diaspora, civil society agencies, parliamentarians and the high commissioners who spoke.

They left with the clarity that this was not just a story but also a tragedy and scandal.” Their outrage was heightened when Hewitt confirmed that then British Prime Minister Theresa May had conveyed to him that she was “unavailable” to meet her CARICOM counterparts.

The sudden outburst of public protest that followed caused a political firestorm that forced the Government to do a policy U-turn. The Prime Minister apologised and offered a pathway to citizenship for the Windrush generation with compensation offered to those who had suffered.

In April 2018, David Jessop, the former head of the Caribbean Council, the London-based Caribbean think-tank and advocacy agency, penned this: “The High Commissioner for Barbados, Guy Hewitt, in an impassioned and personal series of comments, spoke movingly about the plight and suffering of many members of the Windrush generation and their experience of a form of persecution by the British authorities.

“In what must be an all-time first for a Caribbean diplomat, he turned the issue into a front-page story for a week in every single British newspaper and made the appalling treatment of possibly thousands of individuals in the Caribbean Diaspora in Britain the lead item on every radio and television news program.

“The story that he told not only emotionally touched huge numbers of British people but demonstrated the profoundly wrong ways in which a group of individuals of Caribbean origin have been treated in a manner best described as Kafkaesque. In doing so, he turned their personal experience into a national political issue reaching to the highest levels of government.”

The Barbadian cleric’s role in the Windrush affair is documented in Chatham House’s World Today global affairs magazine, UWI’s SES and Caribbean Quarterly journals, and the Barbados Museum and Historic Society journal. However, Hewitt said he  was “highly disappointed” that compensation promised for damages and suffering remained largely unpaid today. (WG)

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