Windrush campaigner Paulette Wilson has died “a broken woman” at 64 years old. Her death comes just a month after delivering a petition to Downing Street calling for action to address the failings that led to the Windrush scandal.
Wilson, who was from Wolverhampton, died unexpectedly on Thursday 23 July. According to family friend and fellow Windrush campaigner Patrick Vernon, she was a “precious gem” who was “broken by the government”.
Paulette Wilson and Anthony Bryan after a personal apology from immigration minister Caroline Nokes (Yui Mok/PA)
At age 10, Wilson came to Britain from Jamaica in the late 1960s. She spent two years under the threat of deportation and also spent some time in a detention centre, before being told in 2017 that she could stay in the UK.
Vernon emphasised the detrimental impact of the government’s ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy on Wilson’s mental health. He told the PA news agency:
It’s a complete shock. She died a broken woman, that’s all I can say.
The impact of the hostile environment on her mental health … people underestimate the impact of the hostile environment which is based on fear and intimidation.
And then she really struggled with the compensation form. She really, really struggled with that.
Vernon was with Wilson last month when they delivered to Downing Street a petition signed by more than 130,000 people. The petition called for action to address the government’s failings and demanded swift compensation payments for Windrush victims.
Home secretary Priti Patel posted a tweet about Wilson’s death which Vernon described as “rubbish”. He predicted that it will cause a lot of anger in the community.
Deeply saddened by the passing of Paulette Wilson who dedicated her last years to highlight the terrible injustices faced by the #Windrush generation.
Together we must continue on her mission to right the wrongs.
— Priti Patel (@pritipatel) July 23, 2020
By the end of today, there’s going to be so much anger in the community about how she’s been treated.
She was like a gem, a precious gem, who got broken by the government.
Moreover, he said of the compensation scheme:
It’s just outrageous. I just hope that … basically, what needs to happen is that the compensation scheme needs to be removed from the Home Office because they’re not fit to run that scheme.
“A young spirit”
Reflecting on what Wilson was like, Vernon said:
She was young at heart. She had a young spirit. She was was lively. She was fun.
But with that fun there was sadness, because her spirit was broken. The Government broke her down.
They took away her humanity, her dignity, her self-respect. And she was trying to build it up again but it was difficult because she had not been sorted out by compensation.
And there’s lots of people in her situation, in the same boat as her.
Windrush campaigner Michael Braithewaite, who was also among the group delivering the petition to Downing Street last month, described Wilson as “a lovely little lady”. He told PA:
It’s so sad, it’s so so sad… Her journey was such a tough one.
A statement from Wilson’s daughter Natalie Barnes, reported by the BBC and the Guardian, said:
My mum was a fighter and she was ready to fight for anyone.
She was an inspiration to many people. She was my heart and my soul and I loved her to pieces.
In an appearance on BBC Breakfast, Wilson had said an apology from then-home secretary Amber Rudd was “a good thing”, but commented:
What about all the other people who were sent away before my case became big?
…It’s just upsetting to think that an ordinary person like me could go through something like that. I’m still going through hell at the moment.
It’s really hard for me to put it in words … I’m still hurt, I’m still hurt, that’s all I can say.
As part of the Windrush scandal, the government wrongfully detained people with a right to live in the UK or deported them to the Caribbean. A report published in March 2020 found that it was “foreseeable and avoidable”. The report also said victims were let down by “systemic operational failings” at the Home Office. It concluded that “institutional racism” played a role in the mistreatment of Windrush victims.
According to official figures published in May 2020, the government has paid out only less than 5% of the claims made under the Windrush compensation scheme.
Patel told the House of Commons in March that since the scandal emerged in 2018, more than 11,700 people have been given “some form of documentation”.
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