Lobby your MP or sign the on-line petition to end wrongful deportations of Windrush generation
By Bernard Purcell
Tens of thousands of people who arrived in the UK as children forty, fifty and even seventy years ago are being threatened with deportation by the Home Office – and many may have already been wrongfully removed, ministers admitted this week.
As many as ten per cent, or a little above that, of the 500,000 Windrush generation of parents and children are affected. This is despite the fact they have lived their lives as citizens of this country, attained educational qualifications, bought homes and raised their children here. At a time when they should be enjoying retirement and those grandchildren the British government is resisting a simple, inexpensive, bureaucratic adjustment that would regularise their position.
These people came over from 1948 during the same big waves of emigration from Ireland and worked on the same buses and railways, in the same NHS hospitals and the same car and food factories, the same building sites as the Irish. They settled in the same neighbourhoods, especially in London. Their children went to the same schools. They often faced discrimination together, although one group of people undoubtedly often faced far worse prejudice and for much longer.
This week, after 10 Downing Street initially refused to discuss the matter with the heads of government of the Commonwealth nations whose immigrants are most affected, a government immigration minister appeared to concede that legitimate UK residents have already been wrongly deported “in error”.
Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said she was “very sorry”.
Ms Nokes appeared to confirm reports some Windrush generation residents have been wrongly removed from the country.
She said: “Potentially they have been and I’m very conscious that it’s very much in error, and that’s an error that I want to put right.”
“These are people who we welcomed here way back in the ’50s and ’60s and it’s really important to me that we correct any error.
“That we send a message of reassurance to people who are here, we want to get this right for them.”
She said the government had “absolute responsibility” to prevent further “mistakes” and said she wanted to say she was “personally sorry” to those affected.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who could not say how many people might have been wrongly deported, admitted to MPs: “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.”
A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said she had not been aware of a request from the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit to meet her to discuss the problems but once she became aware a meeting was scheduled. The Prime Minister’ s spokesman said: “She deeply values the contribution made by these and all Commonwealth citizens who have made a life in the UK, and is making sure the Home Office is offering the correct solution for individual situations.
“She is aware that many people are unlikely to have documents that are over 40 years old and she is clear that no-one with the right to be here will be made to leave.”
Mrs May’s, and Downing Street’s, U-turn came after 140 MPs from across the parties wrote to the Prime Minister calling for an “immediate and effective” response to the concerns of Windrush generation residents.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said: “It is an absolute scandal that the Home Office doesn’t even know how many people they have wrongly deported.
“Theresa May must apologise for this mess which has taken place as a direct consequence of the hostile environment she created.
“As Home Secretary, she removed the rules protecting Commonwealth citizens and as Prime Minister she has completely ignored the issue.
“The Windrush generation must have their rights as British citizens confirmed, any who have been deported must be invited back to the UK immediately and those who oversaw their deportations must be held to account.”
Many of the so-called Windrush generation are being told they are here illegally because they can’t provide paperwork or records which, by rights the Home Office itself should have.
An on-line petition started by Patrick Vernon, calling for an ‘amnesty’ for anyone of the Windrush generation who arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1971 – most children would have arrived on their parents’ passports – had by the start of this week attained more than 130,000 signatures.
Windrush generation: the facts
On 22 June 1948 the MV Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks, Essex, with 492 men women and children, workers from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other islands to meet the UK’s post-war labour shortages.
In 1971 the Immigration Act of that year gave Commonwealth citizens already living in the UK indefinite leave to remain. After that a British passport-holder born overseas could only settle in the UK if they had a work permit and could prove that a parent or grandparent had been born in the UK.
But the Home Office itself did not keep a record of those granted leave to remain or issue any paperwork confirming it – meaning it is difficult for Windrush arrivals to prove they are in the UK legally.
And because the Home Office, under then Home Secretary Theresa May, adopted a policy of creating a hostile environment for immigrants in 2013 they have been receiving threatening letters telling them they face deportation ‘back’ to countries many of them have not been to since they left with their parents.
The clampdown means they are being told they need evidence to continue working, get treatment from the NHS or to remain in the UK.
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