by LAUREN CODLING
PRIME MINISTER Theresa May has apologised to leaders of the Caribbean on Tuesday (17) after it emerged her government had threatened to deport people who had immigrated to the UK almost 70 years ago.
After the outpouring of criticism concerning the treatment of the so-called Windrush
generation, May told representatives of the 12 Caribbean members of the Commonwealth that she took the treatment of the migrants “very seriously”.
“I want to apologise to you today because we are genuinely sorry for any anxiety that
has been caused,” the prime minister said. “I want to dispel any impression that my government is, in some sense, clamping down on Commonwealth citizens, particularly
those from the Caribbean.”
The generation were brought to the UK from the West Indies on the ship Empire Windrush between 1948 and the early 1970s.
They and their parents were invited to help rebuild Britain after the Second World War.
Under the 1971 Immigration Act, the Commonwealth citizens were given indefinite leave to remain in the country.
But 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
Almost half a million people left their homes in the West Indies to live in Britain between 1948 and 1970, according to Britain’s National Archives.
But those who failed to get their papers in order are now being treated as illegal, which
limits their access to work and healthcare and puts them at risk of deportation if they
cannot prove they are residents in the UK.
Recent reports in the British media have included cases such as a man who was denied
treatment for cancer and a special needs teaching assistant who lost his job after being
accused of being illegal immigrants despite living in the UK for more than 40 years.
May’s remarks came after her successor at the Home Office, Amber Rudd, apologised
in the Commons on Monday (16).
“Frankly, some of the way they have been treated has been wrong, has been appalling,
and I am sorry,” Rudd told parliament.
She also announced that the Home Office had set up a new unit to deal with people’s
concerns about their immigration status. “I hope it will go a long way to assist the Commonwealth citizens who should have their rights confirmed without charge,” she said.
An official spokesman for May said: “Work has been going on for some time now in
creating a system to handle those claims. We’re confident that we will be able to do it
in a smooth and efficient way.”
At an emergency meeting in the Commons on Monday, MPs questioned how the situation would be resolved. Tottenham MP David Lammy referred to the controversy as a day of “national shame”.
“When my parents and their generation arrived in this country under the Nationality Act of 1948, they arrived here as British citizens,” he said. “…This is a day of national shame and it has come about because of a hostile environment policy that was begun under her prime minister.”
Lammy has asked any individual who has had trouble with their status to contact him.
One 35-year-old man, who was due to be deported on Wednesday (18), was stopped after the Labour MP intervened.
The politician confirmed that the mother of Mozi Haynes got in touch, saying he was due to be removed from the country after two failed applications to stay.
Britain has written to each of the Caribbean governments setting out how it intends to rectify the situation, notably by helping anyone affected to find the necessary paperwork
to regularise their immigration status.
It has promised to waive the usual fee for residency cards, and “reimburse reasonable
legal costs” incurred so far.
But there was further embarrassment for May on Tuesday when the Home Office – which she led for six years before moving to Downing Street – admitted it had destroyed some of the Windrush generation’s registration slips, which document when they arrived in Britain.
Antigua and Barbuda prime minister Gaston Browne said he was pleased the government
had made moves to address the issue.
“Many of these individuals do not have any connection with the country of their birth, would have lived in the UK their entire lives and worked very hard towards the advancement of the UK,” Browne said.
The issue came to light following a clampdown on illegal immigration spearheaded by May during her tenure as interior minister.
It required people to have documentation to work, rent a property or access benefits
“Due to the rollout of very intrusive and harsh immigration checks across everyday life, people are now finding themselves in situations where they are quite heavily penalised for not having that documentation,” said Satbir Singh, chief executive of the Joint Council for Welfare of Immigrants.
Singh said those affected could suffer from anxiety and depression as they can be left destitute after losing work after being labelled undocumented migrants.