Wednesday 19 September, 2018

The Windrush Generation issue explained

The news coming out of the United Kingdom this week has been dominated by reports of attempts by the British Government to deport thousands of people of Caribbean descent who migrated to the UK aboard the Empire Windrush between the 1940s and early 70s. The issue has enraged many in the Caribbean and the diaspora who saw the treatment as unfair. 

A lot has emerged in the international media this week but if you have not been following the story or are unsure what the issue is about, we have some of your questions answered.

What is the Windrush Generation?

The Windrush Generation refers to all the people who sailed aboard the Empire Windrush from Jamaica to the United Kingdom. The first sailing on June 22, 1948, contained 492 people including Jamaicans, Trinidadians and other Caribbean nationals. Among the notable people  who were part of the Windrush Generation were Trinidad calypsonians Lord Kitchener and Lord Woodbine, the latter credited with being a major influence in the career of the Beatles, authors VS Naipaul and Sam Selvon, and Jamaican war veteran Sam Beaver King, who became the first black Mayor of Southwark in 1983.

Were they citizens?

The British Nationality Act 1948 gave citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKC status) to all British subjects connected with the United Kingdom or a British colony. Under the 1971 Immigration Act, all Commonwealth citizens already living in the UK were given indefinite leave to remain.

What is the issue?

The Home Office did not keep a record of those granted leave to remain or issue any paperwork confirming it, meaning it is difficult for the individuals to now prove they are in the UK legally. Also, many who travelled as children did so on their parents’ passports. Changes to the immigration law in 2012, which require people to have documentation to work, rent a property or access benefits, including healthcare, left many fearful of their status and access to healthcare and shelter.

How did this issue blow up?

In late 2017, UK newspaper The Guardian highlighted the plight of Paulette Wilson who left Jamaica at the age of 10. She received a letter informing her that she was an illegal immigrant and was going to be removed and sent back to the land of her birth.  The 61-year-old was saved from forced removal through the intervention of her MP and a charity but her case brought to the fore a similar plight facing many like her who lived and worked in England for years.

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Why the hostility?

Prime Minister Theresa May is oft quoted as stating, while she was Home Secretary, that the UK should create a hostile environment for all illegal immigrants. The 2014 and 2016 Immigration Act helped to create a hostile environment by making it easier for private landlords to evict illegal migrant tenants, punished landlords for not carrying out rent checks, ensuring that those unlawfully present in the UK are not able to drive and placing a duty on banks and building societies to carry out periodic checks of the immigration status of existing current account holders, among other things.

What happened this week?

With heads of Governments gathering in London for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), the treatment of Caribbean-born nationals in the UK took centre-stage. A group of Opposition MPs wrote a letter to the Prime Minister asking her to guarantee the rights of all the affected citizens.  The letter was signed by MP David Lammy, Chair of the Parliamentary Group on Race and Community.  A petition calling for Amnesty for the Windrush Generation was also signed by over 100,000 people, therefore, ensuring the issue would be discussed in Parliament. Lammy delivered a stirring speech in Parliament taking the Home Secretary Amber Rudd to task and demanding to know how many people were deported. She subsequently apologised to the House of Commons.

Has there been a resolution?

Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday, while meeting with the Commonwealth heads, apologised and said the issue came to light because of measures her Government took recently. She assured that while an overwhelming majority of the Windrush Generation have the documents they need to prove their legal right to live in the UK, some don’t and she gave her Government’s commitment to assist those people.  The Home Secretary announced on Monday that a new dedicated team will work across government to help individuals identify and gather evidence to confirm their existing right to be in the UK. The team will include a dedicated contact point and aim to resolve cases within two weeks once the evidence has been put together.