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Windrush: When No Good Deed Goes Unpunished



Between 2013 and 2018 thousands of people who had been living and working legally in the UK for decades were now told they had to leave or face deportation. They were people from the Caribbean and elsewhere who had answered Britain's plea to come and help it rebuild its tattered post-war nation. The MP David Lammy, social activist Patrick Vernon, and the Guardian journalist, Amelia GenMany lost their rights to settlement, which caused unmitigated despair and financial loss. tleman, have been credited for exposing the nightmare. exclusion of those affected. This article highlights the main issues behind the scandal.



Who are the "Windrush generation"?


The Windrush Generation is a term ascribed to people arriving from various Caribbean countries between 1948 and 1971. This group is so-called because of the ship on which many arrived. HMT Empire Windrush was a passenger liner and cruise ship launched in Germany in 1930. Her original name was MV Monte Rosa when in the 1930s she operated as a German cruise ship and then, during World War II, as a German navy troopship.

They came as a response to Britain’s post-war call for help. Many answered that call, seeking to help rebuild the devastation brought by the Second World War and by the subsequent shortage of labour in building, transport and communication in the UK.


The UK acquired Windrush as a prize of war and after the conflict ended, renamed her Empire Windrush. She continued as a British troopship until March 1954, when the vessel caught fire and sank in the Mediterranean Sea with the loss of four lives.


The first Windrush settlers arrived at Tilbury Docks, Essex, on 22 June 1948, bringing workers from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other islands. They came as a response to Britain’s post-war call for help. Many answered that call, seeking to help rebuild the devastation brought by the Second World War and by the subsequent shortage of labour in building, transport and communication in the UK.


The passenger lists showed that more than half of the 1,027 listed official passengers on board (539) gave their last country of residence as Jamaica. 139 stated Bermuda and 119 stated England. There were also people from Mexico, Scotland, Gibraltar, Burma and Wales. Later settlers, mostly minors, were sent for to join their parents and other siblings




There are no accurate statistics of the Windrush generation because many arrived as children on their parents passports and had never applied for travel documents. According to Oxford University's Migration Observatory, there are now 500,000 people resident in the UK who were born in a Commonwealth country and arrived before 1971.


This includes the Windrush arrivals. Of these, figures by the Labour Force Survey estimate that around 57, 000 people, as either part of the Windrush generations or their descendants – are likely to be affected by the government's hostile environment policy. This includes people from India, Pakistan, Kenya and South Africa.




Difficulties for Windrush arrivals


As Windrush settlers die, any undocumented descendants will need to find their own means of proving their right to remain, whether through ancestry and/or evidence of the right to settle. This is because the Home Office did not keep a record of those granted leave to remain or issue any paperwork confirming it. To make matters worse, in 2010, landing cards belonging to Windrush migrants were destroyed by the Home Office.


There is a common misconception of an automatic right: that because they were born to parents who had the right of settlement, citizenship is automatically conferred to them. Or that because they came from British colonies that had not achieved independence, they believed they were British citizens. However, the legal system operates quite differently and the Immigration Act 1971 was set up to make a clear distinction pf settlement rights between Old Commonwealth citizens (mainly white) and New Commonwealth citizens (mainly black).


Meanwhile, although ministers have consistently assured people that they have a right to remain, in practice the picture is very different. In fact the immigration and nationality rules is a minefield which can see siblings being granted different immigration statuses.





So what happened?


"What we are proposing here will, I think, flush illegal migrants out. We are trying to create a much more hostile environment in this country if you are here illegally," said Mr Byrne. "We have to make Britain much less of an attractive place if you are going to come here and break the rules."

The term "hostile environment" was used in May 2007 by Labour Liam Byrne, Labour's Immigration Minister, when he announced in a Home Office consultation paper consultation document:


"What we are proposing here will, I think, flush illegal migrants out. We are trying to create a much more hostile environment in this country if you are here illegally," said Mr Byrne. "We have to make Britain much less of an attractive place if you are going to come here and break the rules."


At that time it was estimated that the scheme would require an extra £10m -£20m a year spent on a 1,200- strong force of compliance officers. Under David Cameron's administration, Home Secretary Theresa May, followed an (as yet unmet) election promise to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands. Under a hostile environment, migrants face immigration checks as a constant part of daily life: whether they trying to rent a property, open a bank account or access health services.



The impact of a hostile environment



More than 50% of UK police forces share the identities of victims of crimes – including domestic and sexual violence offences – with the immigration authorities.

Under the Immigration Act 2014 and Immigration Act 2016, the policy includes requirements for landlords, the NHS, charities, other non-profit group and banks to carry out ID checks. People without a passport must provide four pieces of documentary evidence for each year of residence in order to prove their legal status. For those arriving 50 years ago, this has become a Herculean task.


Observers have implied that immigration is a subjective rather than objective view for May, an ideological driver rather than an economic strategy. The immigration application more difficult by implementing a policy of deports first, appeal later. The England and Wales Court of Appeal has called the policy’s "Byzantine for its complexity, lack of clarity, and overlapping detail that has led to incorrect threats of deportation.


Other fears have arisen for victims of crime. More than 50% of UK police forces share the identities of victims of crimes – including domestic and sexual violence offences – with the immigration authorities. Consequently, many people who aren't regularised don’t report crime for fear of being arrested and deported. Charities, campaigners and landlords have criticised the hostile environment within the Right to Rent scheme, saying it is 'unlawful and discriminates against tenants on the basis of their race or nationality', and that it contributes to homelessness.


After apology and resignation of the Home Secretary Amber Rudd, the government launched a compensation scheme. This allows financial redress for those who have been affected adversely by its hostile environment.

What next?


Following exposure of the scandal, May insisted the government was not "clamping down" on Commonwealth citizens, particularly those from the Caribbean.


After apology and resignation of the Home Secretary Amber Rudd, the government launched a compensation scheme in April 2019. Its aim was to provide financial redress for those who have been affected adversely by the hostile environment and to offer a reinstatement of their rights. However our own research has throwin up quite a different scenario, with people telling us they are no nearer to a compensation or even to getting help with completing the forms.


Although several task force teams have been set up, up until August 2019 the government had still not put in place the legislation that would allow people to be compensated. To date it is unclear just who has been helped from the fallout of a catastrophic government strategy that will have implications for years to come.

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