BRITAIN MUST BE FAIR TO MIGRANTS WHO HELPED THE COUNTRY PROSPER
NEARLY 20 years ago I started work on this newspaper, helping to edit pages on issues that covered many of the same subjects you see today. The news and opinion were not foreign to me, because although the perspective, like all papers, is unique, the stories were aimed at a community that may have come from far, but are now truly British.
That’s why the reports we’re getting about the Windrush kids make me so angry. They speak to another generation, a time when Enoch Powell’s words spread poison in our country, and a time when equality was a distant dream.
Take a look at some of the cases we’ve read recently. There’s a woman who came to Britain with her parents. They worked hard all their lives and brought her up well. She, in turn, worked hard, she was even a cook in parliament for a few years. After a lifetime of contribution to our country – her country too – she was sent back to Jamaica, a country she barely knew as she had left it when she was only 12. Her mistake? Not keeping records in such detail that she could prove her rights.
Then there’s another report. This time a man, a special needs teacher, who has been helping kids struggling to succeed, to find the skills they will need to build a strong future. He was fired because he couldn’t prove his entitlement to work despite having been here for some 50 years.
There are also the stories that haven’t happened. The job not applied for, the journey not made, the visit to the hospital not sought because the person is frightened they could be asked to prove something they would find hard – their right, their status as a British citizen.
Each one is a tragedy. Each one is unfair and wrong. These folk aren’t asking for a new status and or nationality, they are just asking for what’s theirs already to be recognised.
How could this happen? How could we, a country that prides itself on the rule of law and fairness, find ourselves being so clearly unfair to people who have helped build the public services and infrastructure we depend on today?
As is the case so often, there are many reasons. None of them good, and all demanding a quick answer. The first is that we’re British. We don’t demand that our citizens identify themselves or register with the authorities. Unlike many of our European friends, we don’t insist on people carrying identity cards. In fact, for many of us, the first time we’ll get any identity papers at all is the passport when we want to go on holiday.
That’s why many people, who came perfectly legally as children travelling on their parents’ passports, have no proof that they came, no entry stamp, no record of travel. And then because they didn’t need to register for school or prove they were entitled to work, they didn’t register the rights they arrived with as British citizens.
But that’s no excuse for the failure today. The legacy of decades of oversight doesn’t excuse the actions we’re seeing having consequences for so many. That’s why I’m pleased the Home Office has set up a unit to deal specifically with these cases. Because the Windrush kids are special. They arrived as citizens, at the request of the British people to help rebuild the country, just as they had helped to defend Britain in the Second World War.
We have focused on the Windrush kids because of the cases brought out in recent days, but we should think hard about other communities. West Indians came to Britain and performed so many critical roles from staffing hospital wards to driving our buses and engineering repairs to machinery.
The Commonwealth brought others to Britain too: many who came from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka kept our infrastructure running and started the shops which became cornerstones of communities, while people were fed in the warmth of Bangladeshi restaurants.
That’s why I’m standing up for those who work late in the tough jobs and open early, who nurse our sick and teach our children. We need to be fair to those who came with rights and energy and helped us all prosper. That’s why I’m standing with the Windrush kids. Migration was good for Britain, it enriched us all.