The False Promise of ‘Indefinite Leave to Remain’

How the British Government’s hostile environment is targeting Black Brits

Paulette Wilson was detained in a detention centre for six days, charged with being an illegal immigrant. She had come to the UK to join her parents in 1968 at the age of ten and had not left the country since.

The notion of a ‘hostile environment’ was created by then home secretary Theresa May specifically to deport people who had no right to be in Britain. How then, did Black Britons become targets? One way was by allowing untrained, junior civil servants to make life-changing decisions on people they saw only as files.

For Black Brits like Paulette, who came to Britain and never left, she had no travel document to produce when asked. Like thousands of Caribbean immigrants who had come to Britain on ships, landing cards were long lost, misplaced or otherwise missing.

Another was by demanding evidence of legal status that either no longer existed or never had. Documents that were accessible, such as doctors’ and school records, even tax receipts, were deemed inadmissible.

Yet many children came to Britain without travel documents of their own, appearing as dependents on their parents’ passport. I can remember seeing my and my brothers’ names on my mother’s passport before I got one of my own aged sixteen.

For Black Brits like Paulette, who came to Britain and never left, she had no travel document to produce when asked. Like thousands of Caribbean immigrants who had come to Britain on ships, landing cards were long lost, misplaced or otherwise missing.

There had been duplicates, in the possession of the Home Office. But shockingly, these were destroyed over a decade ago, under the guise of space-saving. Why were these important documents not put onto microfiches before destruction? No answer has been forthcoming.

Ultimately, it was media attention — notably from The Guardian newspaper which mounted a huge campaign — that led to people like Paulette Wilson being freed, in her case at Heathrow airport within hours of being forcibly deported.

A television reporter, there to capture the moment of Paulette’s release, had this to say: “It was one hell of an emotional reunion. There were tears, they were hugging each other. I’ve not seen anything like it actually.” Sarah Bishop, BBC reporter

Why the surprise that a 78-year-old woman would be emotionally overwhelmed and her family delighted, that an unfair sentence had been reversed? The answer lies in the historical nature of the Windrush scandal.

“There is no British history without the history of the empire. The Windrush story begins in the seventeenth century when twelve million people were stolen from their homes in Africa and taken to the Caribbean to work on plantations. The wealth of this country was built on the backs of the Windrush generation’s ancestors…. As the late great Stuart Hall put it, I am the sugar at the bottom of the British cup of tea.” -David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, London

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A friend of mine, like Paulette born in the Caribbean, but having lived in Britain since childhood, also had her right to abode in England questioned. Despite having a British passport all her life (the last one mysteriously lost after being sent to the passport office for renewal) and producing decades worth of school certificates and letters, tax and National Insurance receipts and letters from numerous employers, she was suddenly denied the right to work, access to medical facilities and had her free bus pass — issued to citizens over the age of 60 — removed.

She spoke of attending home office appointments and seeing people, some quite aged, standing in queues with no access to food or water despite wait times in excess of six hours.

It took her four years of legal wrangling, amid huge legal bills and struggles to continue paying her mortgage (made possible only with help from family and friends) before she was finally told that yes, she did have a right to remain in Britain. The promised compensation is yet to materialise.

In 2019, fifty years after she had left as a child, Paulette Wilson returned to Jamaica under very different circumstances to the planned for her by the home office. She went on her first overseas holiday.

Unable to justify the removal of thousands of black people who came to this country as children, the British government has now turned its attention to deporting ‘serious criminals’ among the black population. On 11th February of this year, a planeload of ex-offenders was flown to Jamaica, all having already completed prison sentences, to face an uncertain future in a country they no longer know.

Among ‘serious criminals’ previously deported to Jamaica is twenty-two-year-old Chevon Brown, who served seven months for speeding in an uninsured car. It’s not hard to believe that Caribbean-born Black Britons are being unfairly targetted.

After a public outcry and a petition signed by over 125,000, investigations led to two people (of fifty) being taken off last week’s deportation list — one because it was found he was a modern slave groomed to sell drugs for a criminal gang. The government had resisted calls to stall the chartered flight until after publication of the long-delayed report on the Windrush scandal.

Among ‘serious criminals’ previously deported to Jamaica is twenty-two-year-old Chevon Brown, who served seven months for speeding in an uninsured car. It’s not hard to believe that Caribbean-born Black Britons are being unfairly targetted.

In a climate of hostility with strong undertones of racism, Black Brits are too readily regarded as easy prey. As MP David Lammy put it: “We stopped deporting criminals to Australia in 1868, why have we started doing it through the back door in this way?”

Many thanks to Guardian writer Shanida Scotland for her inspirational video on Paulette Wilson.

©️marla bishop 2020

Marla Bishop is a writer and relationship coach specialising in helping others live a life they love. She lives in London UK with her husband and youngest two children. You can read more of her writings here: Lilith

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Londoner, philosophy graduate, journalist, relationship coach, wife & mother. MA in Novel Writing; working on 1st novel. Follow me: https://linktr.ee/Marla

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