As a publisher and editor we have been highlighting the dreadful plight of the victims of the Windrush for some years. I commissioned this article, written by journalist Ciara Leeming for another publication in 2019. The story was first published in The Big Issue and yet we are still hearing the same stories.
People are incarcerated, deported and realistic compensation is lacking. In spite of several campaigns from London to the north of England the same fight goes on. Successful Home Secretaries cannot seem to get a grip on the problem and meanwhile families are being torn apart.
The anguish of being suddenly made stateless is unrelenting. It is a rude awakening for the victims as well as all those who have legally lived here since childhood.
Former Prime Minister Theresa May, when I interviewed her in 2018, said
“It should never have been the case that people from the Windrush generation faced problems proving their status…”
So! Is it right that a man or woman should fear to apply for a passport or come forward for any official reason fearing they may end up being branded as illegal immigrants and suffer the consequences that go with it?
Is it right that at the push of a pen or flick of piece of paper that a random law abiding person who has lived here, worked here and paid taxes all his/her adult life should be selected for turmoil, upheaval and incarceration at a detention centre?
The whole system of producing reports, white papers and apologies seems to me a futile effort to kick the ball down the road and buy time.
The Windrush Scandal needs to be redressed once and for all now.
Some Windrush Scandal Fallout Stories
By Ciara Leeming
Ciara Leeming examines the plight of some of the victims of the Windrush Scandal
Owen Haisley is recounting one of the hardest phone calls of his life.
“I had to phone my boys from a detention centre and tell them Daddy was being sent to Jamaica and might not see them for a while,” he recalls.
“They’re only five and seven years old and it nearly broke their hearts. Now, whenever I miss a call from them, they’re scared that I’ve been deported. Little kids should be having fun, not worrying about things like that.”
A Manchester MC who migrated from Jamaica with his mother – a nurse – at the age of four and was granted indefinite leave to remain aged 11, Haisley came close to being deported in February. After being detained and transferred to an immigration centre he was warned he would be expelled within days.
His removal was only cancelled thanks to pressure from his supporters – 100,000 people signed a petition on his behalf and MP Lucy Powell raised his case in parliament. The charter flight took off without him, carrying about 30 passengers who had not been so lucky, and he was set free.
This was the second time in just six months that Haisley, 45, had narrowly avoided deportation under the government’s hostile environment policy – which had automatically stripped him of his residency rights following a jail sentence for domestic assault. Introduced by Theresa May in her previous role as home secretary, the policy aims to make life in the UK as difficult as possible for foreigners.
Employers, schools, landlords, health services and other agencies are all now required to check people’s immigration status. While the government says the rules target irregular migrants, they have also affected people who are legally resident and who have lived here for decades.
People from Commonwealth nations – including many who arrived as children – have been caught out if they lack the documentation to prove their status. In some cases, key evidence had been destroyed by government departments.
Some victims lost jobs and housing, while others were detained or even
deported back to countries they had not visited in years.
In one case, London cancer patient Albert Thompson was asked to pay £54,000 for radiotherapy treatment. He had arrived in the UK as a teenager in 1973 but was unable to provide sufficient documentary evidence to prove it.
Thanks to the publicity surrounding his case, Haisley is no longer at imminent risk of deportation. But until his situation is resolved and his visa reinstated he must live in limbo, with no right to work, use the NHS or access benefits or housing. His case to remain in the UK is currently making its way through the courts, with an upcoming judicial application due to be heard soon.
He says: “I know I did wrong but I’ve served my time and am not a re-offender. If I had a British passport I’d been moving on with my life by now. I’ve been here for 41 years. Like any parent, I want to work, get a house and do normal things for my children. But I can’t move forward with my life and am dependent on family and friends.”
Cases which have hit the headlines have largely involved migrants from Caribbean countries, who came to the UK to work from 1948 onwards, beginning with passengers of the SS Empire Windrush. But Windrush-era immigrants from any Commonwealth country can be affected by the hostile environment and campaigners believe many people have yet to come forward for help.
The Home Office admits that of the 164 people who were wrongly detained or deported at least 19 died before officials were able to contact them to apologise, while another 27 have not been traced. The total number impacted by the scandal remains unknown.
In response, the Home Office has set up a Windrush taskforce, to assess the claims of those who say they have been affected. Application fees – normally in the region of £1,500 – are being temporarily waived and those eligible to apply include Commonwealth citizens settled in the UK before 1973, as well as people of any nationality who settled in the UK before 1989.
Figures show more than 5,000 people have been granted documentation by the Windrush taskforce in the past year, confirming that they have a legal right to live in the UK. Of those, almost 3,700 have been granted British citizenship.
This month [APRIL] the government also agreed to pay up to £200 million in compensation to people wrongly classified as being here illegally who suffered as a result.
Announcing the scheme, home secretary Sajid Javid said: “Nothing we sayor do will ever wipe away the hurt, the trauma, the loss that should never have been suffered by the men and women of the Windrush generation, but together we can begin to right the wrongs of Windrush.”
When the scandal broke, the fact that few people were coming forward in Kirklees to say they had been affected rang bells for some figures within the community. Activists and lawyers feared some local people – particularly older members of the population – could be burying their heads in the sand and hoping the issue would go away.
Last year Kirklees councillor Amanda Pinnock – whose own family is part of the West Indian diaspora – joined forces with local organiser Hugh Goulbourne and other volunteers to create Huddersfield Windrush Advocacy Group, which aims to encourage more people to regularise their status. They are receiving non-financial support from Kirklees Council and are signposting people to a local immigration law firm, My UK Visas for advice. In six months they have dealt with only around 15 enquires but believe this could increase as the hostile environment policy continues to bite.
They say applicants to the government’s Windrush scheme must produce lots of evidence to support their claim and the forms are long and complex, so help from a specialist immigration lawyer can improve people’s chance of success.
Pinnock says: “We still don’t know how many people could be affected by this in our area but we believe there are probably a number of people who are just hoping to keep their heads down and avoid coming forward. People are reluctant to come forward because they are fearful of any trigger that might prompt an investigation.
“I personally know about six people in that situation. That may seem okay if a person has steady employment and keeps out of trouble but if their situation changes – if they need to claim benefits, for example, or get arrested – they could face some serious problems.
“There are people who are questioning whether it’s worth trying to regularisetheir status. We are encouraging everyone to come forward now and take up this opportunity to sort out their situation – but it’s tricky because what if it goes badly for them?”
One case Pinnock has come across involves a man who has served several prison terms, and who – like Haisley – has lost his status as a result. He was recently released on bail, with no recourse to public funding, no right to work and no housing. She would like to see Kirklees Council commit to helping people in this kind of situation – and plans to put forward a motion asking that the authority make this policy.
“I’m currently working with the cabinet members to make sure this man gets housing,” she says. “I want to make sure the council has to help other people in future – that’s how I see my role as councillor.”
Huddersfield-based immigration solicitor Arta Heath, of My UK Visas, is not surprised by the Windrush debacle. She has been seeing cases involving the status of Commonwealth migrants for almost 15 years and has seen the issues ramp up since new immigration rues were introduced in 2012 as a result of the hostile environment.
She says: “There has been a duty for employers to check the status of their workers since 2004, and this is how I became aware of this issue – I was working at Dewsbury Law Centre then and people generally came to me if they lost their job and had applied for a new one. At the time we talked to our MP, Barry Sheerman, and asked him to raise this issue in parliament because we could see it could become a real problem in the future. Then when the hostile environment started to come into play, things became much worse.”
Like Pinnock, Heath believes the message has yet to filter through to affected communities. Her largest number of Windrush-era cases have come from Kirklees but even there only a handful of people have come forward.
Philip Stephen, now 60, first approached Heath for help in 2005, when he applied for a British passport but was turned down. He had arrived in Britain from St Lucia aged nine, in 1967, to join his parents in Huddersfield, where he has lived ever since. He travelled on a Commonwealth passport which stated he had the right to live and work in the UK. But when his country became independent in 1979 those rights were lost.
When he was later made redundant, Stephen’s lack of paperwork made it difficult to find a new job and the situation led to his house being repossessed and his marriage eventually breaking down.
Between 2013 and 2018 he was rejected five times, before finally receiving both British citizenship and a passport under the Windrush scheme, thanks to assistance from Heath.
He says: “This has gone on for years – it’s left me angry, bereft and dejected. It’s not nice being called a foreigner when you’ve lived somewhere for the best part of 50 years.
“My solicitor advised me that if I didn’t make a point of getting that piece of paper I’d be in danger of being deported. That had never entered my head. I’d advise people who don’t have the documentation not to be scared – go and seek help.”
Heath says she has met with officers at the local authority and hopes some frontline services such as housing associations will start to assist in getting the message out to service users who may be affected.
She says: “I believe older people in particular are not getting the message that this is really important. I tell all my clients they must tell their grandparents and other people they knew to do this. They really need to make it a priority to apply for citizenship even if they don’t intend to go out of this country.
“I hear people say: ‘But I’ve lived here all my life and don’t need documentation.’ But the rules have tightened up and now people are having problems due to the hostile environment. Hospitals are now often asking people for ID and if people can’t show they are a British citizenship they may not be able to access the treatment they need.
So it’s really important that people get their documentation in order.
“We also need to stress that this doesn’t only affect people from Caribbean nations, as the term Windrush scandal may lead people to think. I’ve seen similar cases involving people from Ghana and India, for example. We could also see similar issues arising out of the EU settled status scheme in future.”
Afzal Khan, MP for Manchester Gorton and the shadow immigration minister, echoes her warning.
“The Windrush scandal laid bare the devastating impact of the hostile environment. The Tories ignored warnings that their draconian immigration policies would cause discrimination. Windrush proved those warnings right,” he says.
“Since the scandal broke last April, the government’s response has fallen short. The compensation scheme is not yet set up, and it took a year for them to introduce the hardship fund Labour has been calling for since the beginning. They have left out many non-Caribbean people who were also affected by Windrush, and they re-started deportation flights before the lessons learned review has even reported.
“We must end the hostile environment to ensure that EU citizens do not become the next Windrush, and bring full and speedy compensation to all Windrush victims.”