Today, 22 June, marks the 74th anniversary of the Empire Windrush’s 1948 arrival at Tilbury Docks. This, the first highly publicised arrival of Black people into the UK in modern times, saw the arrival of nearly five hundred British Caribbeans, many of whom had fought for Britain during World War Two.
Named after the boat, all Caribbean migrants who arrived between 1948 to 1971 are known as the Windrush Generation. Today also marks the fourth Windrush Day, recognising and celebrating those who arrived in 1948 and their descendants.
Every year, there’s a danger that the day will overshadow the scandal in which Theresa May’s Conservative government treated Black British citizens as illegal immigrants. This prompts us to ask what the Windrush scandal was, and why it’s important to remember and support those still suffering as celebrations take place.
The roots of the scandal can be traced back to 1971 when the Immigration Act was passed under Conservative prime minister Edward Heath – designed to severely limit immigration. Those who arrived between 1948-1971 would be unaffected by the 1971 Act, but the Caribbean children who came to join their parents, as well as some adults, would make up the bulk of the Windrush scandal victims.
The Windrush children who’d arrived prior to the Act were unaffected, as they’d legally entered the UK as children of British Commonwealth subjects. However, section three, paragraph eight of the 1971 Act would later be weaponised against them. It stated that: “When any question arises under this Act whether or not a person is a British citizen…, it shall lie on the person asserting it to prove that he is.”
The deliberate abuse of this clause would be used to attack an innocent generation and result in the Windrush scandal. Theresa May’s “hostile environment”, along with the Immigration Acts of 2012-2014, led to a crackdown on what some politicians believed to be a wave of illegal immigration.
Due to the lack of documentation, which they had not required at the time of their entry to the UK, the children of the Windrush Generation found themselves classed as illegal immigrants, despite having come to Britain legally. The burden of proof was placed on them, and now without documentary evidence, they were all at risk of deportation.
Subsequently and tragically, many were deported, lost their jobs, and were unable to access healthcare, employment and even food. They found themselves unwanted in the very country that was their home. We can’t allow the celebration of Windrush Day to distract us from the fact that the Windrush scandal is still ongoing, and lives are still being ruined.
A report by cross-party MPs in 2021 found that just 5 per cent of Windrush victims have received compensation in the four years since the scandal first started. The Home Affairs Select Committee found that more than 20 victims had died before receiving any form of compensation. The report detailed that the application for the compensation itself, and the delay in processing claims, has only added to the trauma that the victims faced.
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Jacqueline McKenzie, a lawyer representing hundreds of victims of the scandal, stresses the trauma and anguish caused. “They’re traumatised, they’re angry. They’re very, very angry. Rightly so they’re very angry.” This is little surprise as we’ve read about a victim who had to do his own dentistry at home after being denied NHS services, and others who battled depression and suicidal thoughts.
“I think it’s really important that we have serious discussions, and that those discussions are aimed at how we can affect change because I don’t think that that’s happening really. Long after the bunting and balloons of Windrush Day have flown away, we’re still left in this quagmire,” Jacqueline said.
The victims and their families should all receive full compensation and personal apologies, the politicians responsible should be investigated, and the particular political conditions that enabled a government to treat Black Britons as though they were illegal immigrants, must never be allowed to exist again.
As we celebrate the contributions of immigrants to life in the UK, we must, as a matter of sacred duty, make sure justice is given to those who suffered and are suffering as a result of the Windrush scandal.
Source Link Voices: On Windrush Day, victims of this devastating scandal still don’t have the justice they deserve