Amber Rudd has apologised after MPs spoke out about the growing number of cases of British citizens born in the Caribbean and brought to the UK as children during the 1950s and 60s who are facing severe problems with their immigration status.
A day of national shame.
The Windrush generation
After the Second World War, labour shortages meant there was plenty of work in UK industries and the public sector. So parliament passed the British Nationality Act in 1948 and gave British citizenship to all people living in Commonwealth countries. This law granted them full rights of entry and settlement in Britain and the first arrivals were 492 immigrants from the Caribbean. The ship HMT Empire Windrush brought them here and also gave them their nickname – “the Windrush generation”:
All across the Caribbean, for many, England was the mother country. When she put out the call for nurses and teachers to come help rebuild after the war they came to assist and start new lives. That they should be turfed out after 50 odd years hard work and graft is a disgrace.
— David Harewood (@DavidHarewood) April 12, 2018
After living in the UK for 50 years or more, the government is now asking people to prove their status. Those who can’t are being declared “illegal immigrants” by the Home Office. This has led to people losing their jobs. And unable to claim benefits, they face hardship and homelessness. Some have even been denied NHS care for life-threatening conditions.
The Home Office has also threatened them with deportation. Yet all these people came here legally – as British citizens. They’ve paid taxes and national insurance contributions, and many married and had children and grandchildren here. But they did not apply for a British passport or naturalisation.
“Immoral and inhumane”
Prior to the debate, MPs had taken to Twitter to call out the “immoral and inhumane” situation:
Today I have led 140 MPs from 6 parties urging @theresa_may to take immediate action to deal with the Windrush immigration crisis before any more undue pain and suffering is caused. This situation is immoral and inhumane. Their home is here #Windrush https://t.co/1eow7Ry70j
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) April 16, 2018
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott will hold a public meeting in parliament on Thursday 19 April:
I’ll be holding a public meeting in Parliament on Thurs, with some from #Windrush generation directly affected, members of the community, MPs and Reps of the Caribbean govts snubbed by the PM on this issue. Are these really the #Commonwealth values we hope to promote at #CHOGM18 https://t.co/vPPNQzgGWM
— Diane Abbott (@HackneyAbbott) April 15, 2018
Lammy was one of 140 MPs who wrote to Theresa May:
My parents arrived in this country from Guyana and I stand in Parliament as a proud son of the Windrush. Thank you to 140 colleagues including @jeremycorbyn @HackneyAbbott @AngelaRayner @YvetteCooperMP @ChukaUmunna @DawnButlerBrent for joining me in writing to @theresa_may today https://t.co/O5Wl6TeGbX
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) April 16, 2018
A petition is also calling on parliament to grant amnesty for minors who arrived in the UK before 1971. It further calls for an end to all deportations and demands a change to the burden of proof needed to prove citizenship.
At the time of writing, it has received over 141,000 signatures, exceeding the 100,000 needed for a parliamentary debate. Comedian Lenny Henry was one of many people to share the petition:
Petition: Amnesty for anyone who was a minor that arrived In Britain between 1948 to 1971 https://t.co/XJNnDuPZW8
— Lenny Henry (@LennyHenry) April 13, 2018
“This is how the PM marks the 70th Anniversary of their arrival to our shores”
Representatives of 12 Caribbean countries requested that Theresa May discuss this problem with them at this week’s meeting of the Commonwealth heads of government (CHOGM). Initially, this was refused.
Chuka Umunna, MP for Streatham, called this refusal “a total disgrace”:
BREAKING: No. 10 has rejected a formal diplomatic request to discuss the immigration problems being experienced by Windrush-generation British residents. This is how the PM marks the 70th Anniversary of their arrival on these shores – a total disgrace. https://t.co/0R1IUqiUUg
— Chuka Umunna (@ChukaUmunna) April 15, 2018
But May has since U-turned and will now meet the leaders.
Introduction of tighter immigration rules
The problems have been caused due to tighter immigration laws. The Home Office states:
Recent changes to the law mean that if you wish to work, rent property or have access to benefits and services in the UK then you will need documents to demonstrate your right to be in the UK. The government believes this is a proportionate measure to maintain effective immigration control.
We recognise that this is causing problems for some individuals who have lost documents over the long period of time they have been in the UK … No one with the right to be here will be required to leave.
Rudd has now apologised. Speaking to parliament, she stated:
I do not want of any of the Commonwealth citizens who are here legally to be impacted in the way they have and, frankly, some of the way they have been treated has been wrong, has been appalling, and I am sorry.
Yet for many of the children of the Windrush generation, who have built a life here, this apology will be too little, too late.
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Featured image via screengrab