Who are the Windrush Generation, and why are they facing deportation?
There is a history of racist and xenophobic policies behind this.
The Windrush generation are named after one of the ships that transported large numbers of people from Commonwealth nations to the UK in the 1940s, 50s and 60s (see image above). This migration was encouraged, and was seen as mutually beneficial. The UK had a labour shortage following the war, and citizens of The Empire and Commonwealth were promised good pay and working conditions. Britain was viewed by many of these people as the ‘mother country’, with it being the head of The Empire. Under the 1948 British Nationality Act all people living in the United Kingdom and its colonies were granted British citizenship, including the right to settle & work in the UK. The Windrush generation are British citizens, and had assumed that their rights were protected in the same way as all other British citizens.
But many are discovering that this is not so. People have been denied life-saving treatment and deported to countries where they have no connections or living relatives. How could this happen? It all began in May 2010, with the election of the Conservative Party into office. The Prime Minister appointed Theresa May to the position of Home Secretary, where she carried out sweeping changes to legislation brought in under the previous Labour government, and dating further back. Many of these changes were related to privacy, drugs and immigration — all things that the Conservatives claimed the Labour Party had been a ‘soft touch’ on.
With regard to immigration, a number of policies were introduced during her time as Home Secretary that made it more difficult for people to settle here from overseas. These were not aimed specifically at the Windrush generation, who had already been living in Britain for around 50 years, but events since then have shown these legal changes to have been important steps in deciding their fate.
In addition to policy changes with actionable consequences, the political narrative at this time took a very grim turn. Immigrants were blamed for the perceived ills of society, and claimed to be a burden — even though the opposite is true. This set the scene for the horrible changes to come, hardening the public’s attitude towards foreigners and people who look and talk a bit different. By noting the rhetoric and policy changes since 2010, we can track the slow sleepwalk that has brought us to where we are now.
In 2013, David Cameron described a “frightening” previous decade of “lax immigration” for pressure on public services — not the swingeing cuts made by his government. He also stated “Those who are starry-eyed about the benefits of globalisation refuse to see the link between uncontrolled immigration and mass welfare dependency” in spite of there being no such link between the two, and Britain never having had uncontrolled immigration.
Also in 2013, Theresa May introduced her “Hostile Environment” policy, said to be aimed at illegal immigrants, but in reality fuelling fear and suspicion of foreigners in general. One of these measures was the infamous “Go Home” vans, a policy that was ineffective at encouraging people to leave, yet caused widespread hatred and widened divisions in society. Public and private service providers were required by law to confirm the legal residence status of all who used them — landlords, doctors, schools, employers. It might sound like a sensible idea, but it has led to huge expense and numerous errors, some of them life-changing. It has also made things difficult for UK citizens that were born here but cannot prove it — which is a surprisingly large number of people.
In her speech at the 2015 Conservative Party conference, Theresa May blamed just about everything on immigrants and the EU, paying no regard to history or economics. She claimed that “millions” were queueing up to come here and that their arrival would make society less “cohesive” and further pressure public services that her party cut the funding to. It’s always handy to have a scapegoat to deflect attention from your own failings.
And then we had the EU referendum, a popularity contest with no defined winning condition, and one of the worst examples of racist politicking the 21st century has seen:
That was just their words, and their actions matched. In April 2011, a ‘migrant cap’ was introduced, limiting the number of non-EEA migrants into the UK. An attempt to get schools to carry out immigration checks failed in 2016, but the fact that it was tried is scary enough. British newborn babies with foreign-sounding names were sent letters demanding that they prove their residence status or pay for their birth on the NHS. In 2015 May refused to accept refugees under the EU Resettlement Program.
Thousands of overseas students who were mid-course were wrongly deported, and overseas graduates were detained and removed from the country before they could apply for work visas. Visas have been denied to international conference-goers on the basis that they are unmarried, and so have no reason to return home — oh, except for those that were married and therefore, um, have no reason to return home.
One of the nastiest policies introduced by Theresa May is the ban on foreign spouses living in the UK with their partner if the UK citizen doesn’t earn over a certain amount. It has split families up and also applied to foreign spouses already in the country. Suddenly people’s marriages and families were put in jeopardy by our government’s harsh stance on immigration. It wasn’t just married couples who were affected. Adult dependents were also detained and threatened with deportation, including a British-born disabled man who has never left the UK. Changing immigration laws have meant that people who were granted British citizenship at birth have now had it revoked, including a Scottish woman threatened with deportation to America, and an English man told to “go home” to Australia. These two individuals have been caught up in this because their parents were unmarried at the time of their birth, and their mother had overseas or dual nationality — this law means that a British person, born to British parents, in Britain, can be deemed a foreigner and deported to a country they’ve never set foot in. And it’s all because our government has decided to enact xenophobic and racist policies.
Oh, and the border authorities required gay asylum seekers to provide images of them having sex to prove their homosexuality.
Given all this, it’s hardly surprising that after the EU referendum, the Home Office went after EU nationals, even though the UK is still in the EU. We started kicking out EU citizens, who have the right to live and work here under the Schengen Agreement. Numerous EU nationals who applied for permanent residency as a just-in-case measure pre-Brexit were told to “make preparations to leave the UK”. Even though these erroneous demands were successfully challenged, it has set the tone for how EU citizens feel and are perceived, and many have decided to leave anyway. Lucky them — some of us don’t have anywhere else to go. This country has become unfriendly and unwelcoming, and I know that my rights could be next in line.
Back to the Windrush generation, comprised of children that arrived in the UK with their parents from Commonwealth countries in the post-war years. They were granted UK citizenship by the 1948 British Nationality Act, but things changed in 1962 with the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, which restricted future immigration and residency for people from Commonwealth nations. However, anyone that was already here was unaffected, and immigration from the Commonwealth still occurred, just in lower numbers. The Act was tightened up in 1968 and again in 1971. Further legislation, the British Nationality Act 1981 and the Immigration Act 1988, removed the special status of Commonwealth citizens so that their status was the same as any other foreign-born person in the UK. But it should still not have applied retrospectively, yet those “hostile environment” measures that Theresa May introduced as Home Secretary have required people to provide evidence of their right to be here — and if you can’t, you’re assumed to be an illegal immigrant and off to the detention centre you go.
This was made legal by the removal of a single clause in the 2014 Amendment to The Immigration Act 1999 — this went unnoticed until we started taking peoples homes, jobs and healthcare. If we had not known, or not spoken out, they would have gotten away with it.
This only came to light due to the case of Albert Thompson, a cancer patient who legally arrived and settled in the UK in 1973. He requires radiotherapy, which he is eligible for on the NHS, but because he cannot trace documents dating back over 40 years, he has been told he must pay £54,000 for treatment. His questioned residence status means he does not receive housing benefit and is living in a hostel.
It then transpired that this is not an isolated case. Many British citizens have already been deported, although the Home Office claim to be unsure of how many, exactly. More and more cases have been highlighted, yet the government was slow to act, with Theresa May stating in parliament that she would not intervene in the case of cancer patient Albert Thompson, and refused to meet with Commonwealth heads of state at this week’s CHOGM summit.
There is, thankfully, outrage over the dreadful treatment of our fellow citizens. But is it enough to counter the cruel and suspicious culture created through years of drip-fed racism? It will be a disgrace if we allow this to continue — but it would not surprise me if that is what the government did.
Just last week, BBC Radio 4 broadcast Enoch Powell’s notorious “Rivers of Blood” speech in full for the first time. This inflammatory speech focussed particularly on immigration from the Commonwealth. I thought this was a relic of the past, but it seems to be back in fashion.
This is the result of a pattern of hateful rhetoric and deliberately hostile anti-immigration policies. This was destined to happen — but we didn’t care so much about the plight of other immigrants. Now it’s our parents’ generation, we’re paying attention. We thought it would never happen to us.
The tale goes from the tragic to the bizarre. A guide on how to successfully re-integrate in Jamaica (on the official gov.uk website) has some interesting advice:
In addition to affecting a local accent & dialect, not looking too “foreign” (oh, the irony) and keeping an eye on one’s possessions, it warns newcomers to be wary of the locals. Well, you’ve got to be careful around them foreigners, haven’t you?
And there we have it. A decade of racist policies that we allowed to pass, and the result of the EU referendum that galvanised all the bigots and racists. The icing on this particular cake came in the form of the 2014 Immigration Act, which removed a single clause that protected people who had arrived here before January 1973. It went through unannounced and without consultation, although Diane Abbott did raise the matter in parliament. Now people that have lived here all their lives must provide 4 pieces of documentation for every year they’ve been in the UK, although for some reason they’re only asking black people and not those who look “British”, i.e. white.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, there’s also a stinking cherry on top of this shit-soaked cake. The Home Office destroyed the landing cards of those affected in 2010, and then tried to blame it on the former Labour government. This scandal is the result of years of pandering to the far-right, with policy upon policy that appeared innocuous by themselves, but combined to give the conditions where we persecuted our own citizens. As David Lammy put it,
“If you lie down with dogs, then you get fleas.”
It’s not over yet. We don’t know what will become of the Windrush citizens. And this might not be the end — Trump, Brexit, the Alt-Right, Fake News, Real News, it’s all shit. But we must be wary — this is how our government see fit to treat human beings. Just because it’s not us this time, it doesn’t mean it won’t be us next. Our right to exist, to life, to shelter, a job, an income, depends on the whims of whoever is in charge. We stood quietly by as our country’s politics crept further and further to the right — we need to stop this shit RIGHT NOW. Civil rights are human rights, and we’ll really miss those when they’re gone.