Government must put heart and soul into helping Windrush generation

HMT Empire Windrush FL9448 cc wikicommonsThousands of men and women who arrived in the UK as children during the first wave of Commonwealth immigration now face being threatened with deportation.

The group, known as the Windrush generation – is named after the HMS Empire Windrush which, in 1948, brought workers from the West Indies to Britain.

Under the 1971 Immigration Act, all Commonwealth citizens already living in the UK (having arrived between 1948 and 1971) were given indefinite leave to remain but the Home Office did not keep a record of those granted leave to remain or issue any paperwork confirming it.

In 2012, changes in immigration law meant people are now required to have documentation to work, rent a property or access benefits, including NHS treatment.

Despite many having lived, raised their families, worked and paid taxes in the UK for decades, they are now having difficulty proving they have the right to reside in the UK and are being told they are here illegally. Some people have already lost their home and/or jobs and been denied healthcare.

On Monday 16 April 2018, MPs held an emergency meeting at the House of Commons where Labour MP David Lammy directed a scathing speech at Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary and called the issue ‘a national day of shame’.

Ms Rudd has since apologised for the ‘appalling’ way some people have been treated and announced the creation of a task force to help the Windrush generation and ensure no one loses their access to public services and entitlements. Theresa May, Prime Minister, has also bowed to pressure after 140 MPs signed a letter calling for her to act. Initially reluctant to discuss the issue, she will meet the heads of 12 Caribbean countries today (17 April).

The Revd Dr Michael Jagessar, Secretary for Global and Intercultural Ministries for the United Reformed Church says: ‘The recent and current predicament for many of the progeny of Windrush boggles the mind. Consider the incompetence, the Home Office did not keep a record of those granted leave to remain or issue any paperwork to confirm it. So how can the individuals now prove they are in the UK legally? Furthermore, why should the onus be on them to prove they have the right to remain? Would any of this apply to Australian, Canadian, South African, Indian or Pakistan-born citizens facing the same problem?

‘It was the British government who invited the Windrush Generation to Britain to help rebuild our country in the wake of the Second World War. They did not wake up one morning and decided to pay up to travel to Britain only to get here to be treated less well than others. But now the Windrush children must seek legal advice, provide proof and incur expenses to prove they have the right to be in this place they call home and where they have contributed so much over many years. It is shameful that these individuals continue to be treated with such contempt, disrespect and lack of dignity.

‘I agree with Labour MP David Lammy who called this situation a national disgrace and the writer Andrea Levy, herself a progeny of HMS Empire Windrush, who has called this issue “a violation of natural justice”.

‘And, what is the larger story behind this development? Does this reflect a reactionary neo-colonial climate in post-brexit Britain? Is Brexit being used as an excuse for all sorts of racist and intransigent positions? The ironies are too many and too serious to be ignored. One such irony is that on 22 June, we are marking the 70th anniversary of the Empire Windrush’s arrival in those docks in Essex. The hostility continues and this situation may be read as: “You are not welcome here, go back”.

‘Legacies of Britain’s colonial past are still alive and this is one example that must cause us to ask: what really has changed in this country? I urge the Christian community to show solidarity for all those affected by this injustice. God’s offer of full and abundant life for all means that such and all related forms of injustice should be named, protested and exorcised from our life together. It is sin. It betrays God’s desire for a just and beloved community.’

The Revd John Proctor, General Secretary for the URC, added: ‘Our Church is greatly enriched by many people who were born in the Commonwealth and our country has benefited enormously from their contributions to our communities. We care about this issue because it is a flagrant injustice, and because we know at first-hand how much Britain gains from the presence of people with family roots in other Commonwealth countries.’