O Opinion

An Empire State of Mind - Opinion on the Windrush Crisis

Theresa May has had it in for immigrants for many years both as Home Secretary and more recently as Prime Minister – it was her idea, as Home Secretary, to create a ‘hostile environment’ for immigrants. Although a former adviser said that she was opposed the infamous advertising vans extolling people who were ‘In the UK illegally’ to ‘go or face arrest’ they happened ‘on her watch’ while she was Home Secretary. This attitude to immigration which now permeates through the whole government apparatus has managed to catch up a group of people which the government deny were a target. This group has come to be called the “Windrush Generation”.

The Windrush Generation is the name that has been given to a group of immigrants who came to the UK between 1948 and 1971 from Caribbean countries. The first people in this group arrived in Britain in June 1948 from Jamaica. Many of the men who came had already served in the UK during the Second World War and all now came at the request of the government to address the labour shortage that there was in the UK as the country tried to reconstruct following the Second World War. The name ‘Windrush’ came from the MV Windrush the ship that brought the first group of migrants. Many of the Caribbean people who came chose to stay in the UK and became the first large black community in the country. Not only were these people encouraged to come to the UK but the Immigration Act, 1971 gave citizens of the British Commonwealth already living in the UK ‘indefinite leave to remain’.

In November 2017 cases started coming to light of people being denied medical treatment on the NHS, losing their jobs or even being deported. It is only in the last few years that children and even babies have had their own passports, previously children travelled on their parent’s passports which is what happened with children of those arriving, at the request of the UK government, from the Caribbean. These children were now grown up and, themselves, heading towards retirement, they may never have had the need to apply for a passport nor had it even crossed their minds that there was a problem having lived in this country which had been their home for almost all of their lives. During their time in this country, this group of people had paid their taxes and National Insurance contributions, they had been useful members of society and had few if any, connections remaining in the countries of their birth.

Paperwork on arrival in the UK was, in many cases, lax and besides it was fifty years ago and could easily have been lost but this started to become an issue when the policy of hostility towards immigrants started to be extended throughout the bureaucracy of the state with people having to prove their nationality when applying for jobs, renting property or obtaining medical treatment on the NHS. People who have lived in the UK for fifty years or more felt great anxiety about their future in the UK, some were held in detention centres and a number have been deported to the countries of their birth. The British government went so far as to print a booklet to assist potential deportees which included the phrase – “try to be Jamaican – use local accents and dialect (overseas accents can attract unwanted attention)”.

All of the blame for this state of affairs lies at the door of Theresa May and her obsession with reducing net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’.  May and the former Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, have apologised to Parliament – as so often in cases like this the apology is more for having been ‘found out’ than for what they actually did. May has also apologised at a meeting of the 12 Caribbean heads of government and has promised that nobody will be deported. This meeting was originally denied and only happened through pressure from politicians and some members of the press. The most vocal champion of the ‘Windrush Generation’ has been David Lammy (Labour MP for Tottenham) who called the wrongs committed against them as a “National day of shame,” his pleas have been supported by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who called for the resignation of Amber Rudd and for Theresa May to review her “cruel” immigration policy; however there is no cross-party nor cross-media support for a different type of immigration policy so where will all this righteous fury go … nowhere!

The whole question is, of course, one of nothing more than racism, xenophobia and the anti-immigrant agenda being pushed by the Tory party in their search to win friends among disillusioned UKIP voters and the right-wing press. While the Labour Party might be more sympathetic they are also chasing the former UKIP vote which hinders their room to manoeuvre on this subject. People who are not white or have names which don’t quite sound ‘British’  (whatever that may mean) become easy targets for a government that is following a right-wing agenda which will be applauded by the likes of the Daily Mail and its “Little Englander” readership. What is worrying is that if this attitude is allowed to prevail it will extend to other non-white people who have every right to live in the UK and if you want to know where that leads you do not need to look further than Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s.

The single most important thing to remember about the whole issue of immigration into the UK from Commonwealth countries is that the only reason why “they” are over here is that “we” were over there!

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