News Americas, LONDON,
England, Weds. Dec. 4, 2019: Their plight no longer
hits the headlines, but the shocking personal stories continue to emerge.
The treatment of
an estimated 30,000 members of the Windrush generation of Caribbean migrants
who helped make modern Britain continues to shame a nation that is likely in
the coming years to promote the values of ‘Global Britain.’
Thanks largely to
The Guardian and its award-winning journalist, Amelia Gentleman, the story
remains alive. This is more than can be said for some of those affected, or
about the countless other undocumented individuals of Caribbean origin or
parentage whose lives have been destroyed by the British Home Office’s
(interior ministry’s) culture of hostility.
This is despite
the promises made by members of the British government about justice or the
provision of £570m (US$736m) in damages to those who have been wrongly treated.
A recent case
reported by the newspaper makes the point. It involves a prominent Windrush victim,
Hubert Howard, who died without receiving compensation or a personal apology
from the British government. Although he was finally granted citizenship in
October after publicity surrounding a notification sent by his lawyer to
officials indicated that he was critically ill, he had spent the last two
months of his life fighting from his intensive-care bed in hospital for his
right to British citizenship.
To quote The
Guardian: ‘Howard had not left the country since he arrived in the UK legally
in 1960 (at the age of three). He first realized he had problems with his
documents in 2005 when his employers, the Peabody Housing Association, asked
him to show that he was in the UK legally. He tried to get a passport the
following year so he could visit his sick mother in Jamaica, but the Home
Office said it had no record of him and warned him that if he left the UK he
might not be allowed back into the country. His mother died before he was able
to see her again. He tried on numerous occasions to apply for a passport. In
2012 he was dismissed by Peabody because he was still not able to prove he was
in the UK legally. He died in debt as a result of losing his job.’
There are multiple
other unresolved cases. Worse still, of the 88 people the British government
has acknowledged were wrongly classified as immigration offenders and removed
from the UK, 14 are known to have died before officials were able to contact
them, and another 14 have yet to be found.
In her recently
published book ‘The Windrush Betrayal – Exposing the Hostile Environment,’ Ms.
Gentleman details aspects of the Home Office’s program that are truly shocking.
She writes about a
UK government film ‘Coming Home to Jamaica,’ worthy of 1930s Germany, which
suggests that deportees would find support, a welcoming and wonderful
environment, and three meals a day when they were returned to a country of
which most had no knowledge. She recounts the fragmentation of responsibility
within the British Government and in its High Commissions when it came to
She also details
the lack of contrition, the political delays to the promised reforms, quotes an
expletive-containing comment from the current British Prime Minister whose
concern was that the issue undermined the UK’s hosting of the 2018 Commonwealth
summit, and the continuing desire of politicians to blame bureaucratic error
rather than take responsibility.
What is clear is
that the Windrush scandal – there is no other word for it – is not about some
well-meaning fuzzy liberal issue. It is about the lives of significant numbers
of powerless citizens who helped rebuild Britain after the Second World War. It
is also about a state that publicly promotes the rule of law, treating people
with dignity and humanity and argues that justice, morality and democratic
principles are values worthy of adoption by the wider world. It is shaming.
Shame not just for
the UK government’s failure to put into practice what they claim to believe in,
but at the actions and inaction of successive senior politicians and officials
who either through disinterest or by design pursued a ‘hostile environment’
policy in a manner that was discriminatory and more likely to be found in an
These are issues that
will not go away. There are many wholly innocent people of Caribbean heritage
who are still trying with the help of lawyers, and if lucky with media support,
to escape from the Kafkaesque limbo into which the British state has cast them.
The issues involved
raise questions too for the Caribbean.
Caribbean High Commissioners in London are now more determined to seek
explanations and provide active support, little has been said recently by the
region’s political leaders. This is regrettable as what has happened to the
Windrush generation continues to have wider resonance and genuine sympathy from
many in Britain who have never thought much about the Caribbean, the UK’s
colonial past, or the future relationship.
It is now probably
too late for any senior Caribbean figure to publicly intervene in the UK’s
imminent general election, to raise apolitical questions in ways that would
require more than bland answers from the UK’s political class.
Inaction at a
moment when the region potentially had leverage means it will be harder in
future to influence the future UK-Caribbean relationship, create favorable
outcomes for those affected, mobilize future diaspora lobby groups, or
successfully prosecute the region’s case for reparations.
there is every reason now to expect the problems that many in the Windrush
generation continue to experience will be compounded and attention diverted.
This is because
Brexit will likely cause much larger numbers of EU and other citizens presently
living in the UK who fail the residence registration process to become subject
to a newer form of hostile environment and deportation.
As an issue
which directly touches the Caribbean and its extended community, ‘Windrush’
ought to be just as important to the region as the global and regional issues
this column usually addresses. It is just as much about the Caribbean’s place
in the world as addressing climate change, sustainable development, and
rebalancing its international relationships.
The post The Caribbean Windrush Generation: Out Of Sight And Out Of Mind? appeared first on Caribbean and Latin America Daily News.