Windrush campaigner Paulette Wilson had ‘spirit broken by government’, says friend

Afroze Fatima Zaidi

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”.

Windrush generation immigration controversy

Paulette Wilson and Anthony Bryan after a personal apology from immigration minister Caroline Nokes (Yui Mok/PA)

Hostile environment

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.

“Rubbish”

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.

Vernon said:

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.

Institutional racism

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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  • Show Comments
    1. The reporting of the harmful effects of the UKBA hostile environment needs to be ongoing and much wider in scope. If journalists really care about this issue, they must surely dig deeper. Windrush is just the tip of a big, nasty iceberg. There are thousands of
      British Citizens who have lost everything financially and been plunged into permanent mental health disability fighting for the right to be united with their partners or children. Yet the average person on the street believes that, if you are married, your partner has an automatic right to be here. Nothing is further from the truth. We have a situation whereby it takes at least 3 years to get the visa and, by the time Citizenship has been granted (5 years after arrival,) the total cost (many are ‘hidden’ costs) to the couple is around £40000. Along the way, there are numerous tripwires and catch 22s buried in the system. The process consigns couples to abject poverty. Throw the loss of a career through mental illness into the mix and life becomes unbearable. This is happening to citizens whose forebears have been paying taxes for 70, 100, 1000 years or even as far back as the Magna Carta. The UK needs to be aware that this is not exclusively a black issue because , as the Black Lives Matter movement has shown, there are still many white people in this country who only see in black and white, most of them sub-consciously. It would take an army of psychiatrists to untangle the legacy of colonialism in this country. But we cannot wait for that healing process to complete itself while so many people are suffering. Some white, middle class faces must be attached to reporting of this issue so that everyone sees their own face reflected back at them. It is a tragedy that this should still be necessary, but it is.
      The entire family visa system removes all dignity and humanity from the applicant and their family sponsor. THIS is what causes the mental illness and the only way those people will ever have a hope of recovering their dignity, their humanity and their health is when everyone knows their pain, when this dreadful hostile environment is brought to an end, and when compensation and an apology is given to every person harmed by it.
      It is a disgrace that prominent human rights organisations are not interested in this issue. And journalists are negligent by failing to pick it up and drive it home. It is a fact that a British dog has far stronger human rights than a family subjected to the whims of the UKBA hostile environment, and getting the visa is just the beginning of the abuse.
      GOVERNMENT HEALTH WARNING: FALLING IN LOVE WITH A FOREIGNER CAN RESULT IN SERIOUS ILLNESS AND DEATH.

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