By targeting them and hastening their removal from the UK, the government was able to demonstrate that it was toughening its approach to illegal immigration and was succeeding in creating a ‘hostile environment’ for those who could not prove that they had a right to remain and to work in the UK.
Once the government was found to be acting illegally and in a racist and barbaric manner towards people who had made their home in Britain as of right up to 60 years earlier, the Home Secretary announced that he was putting in place a ‘dedicated Windrush Scheme to make it easier for individuals to access support and understand what is on offer’.
The government defined the ‘Windrush generation’ as ‘Commonwealth nationals who settled in the UK before 1973; children of the Windrush generation who joined their parents before they turned 18; children born to the Windrush generation in the UK and who had not been confirmed as British citizens’.
Amid mounting criticism of its treatment of those long-settled residents, some of whom had entered Britain as ‘citizens of the United Kingdom and its colonies’ long before their own countries had gained independence from Britain, the government announced that it was setting up a compensation scheme ‘for people who have suffered loss’. It was also embarking upon a consultation on the compensation scheme. The government then set 11October 2018 as the deadline for claiming compensation.
The government has set the terms of this debate very narrowly in the hope that ‘the Windrush generation’ and the country generally would see it as owning up to its faults, admitting that it caused detriment and distress to people and making amends.
But, we are very used to companies and public bodies that have claims of racism, or other forms of discrimination made against them, reaching a financial settlement with complainants, typically accompanied by a gagging clause, and then getting on with normal business as if the complaint was nothing more than an irritating distraction that one needed to manage out of the way as a risk management exercise. Seldom is anything done about the managers or management and other practices that gave rise to the complaint in the first place, even when the settlement is offered because signs are that the complaint of racial discrimination would be upheld.
This appears to be the spirit in which the government is dealing with the ‘Windrush scandal’. Set an arbitrary and ridiculous time scale for claiming compensation, compensate for ‘loss’ suffered, with a focus on financial rather than any other form of detriment, impose gagging conditions to prevent disclosure of individual settlements reached, while continuing to operate the same laws in respect of people who are still in the process of discovering that they are eligible for compensation, or that they might be next in line for deportation.
What is sinister if not cynical about the government’s approach is that for one thing, the ‘Windrush generation’ remains an untidy and ill-defined construct. In reality, it encompasses ALL former colonial subjects with origins in British colonial territories who migrated to Britain; dependents who joined biological parents or other relatives; elderly dependents who joined children or other relatives; migrants who came to join parents accompanied by and travelling on the passport of acquaintances who were no relatives of their biological parents and who never subsequently acquired passports of their own; minors who came to join biological parents, or one biological parent and one step-parent and who ran away from both, or were taken into care, on account of abuse and who never obtained a passport. In other words, ‘the Windrush generation’ includes a whole range of long term residents who have no documents and whose only record of entry to the country is or was held by the UK immigration service itself. Most of those people went on to have children (and grandchildren) whose British citizenship was never in doubt as far as they themselves were concerned, until of course they were confronted by the ‘hostile environment’. Part of the brutality of the environment was the government’s decision to place the burden of proof of citizenship, or indefinite leave to remain, on the individuals themselves, even when the government knew that for many that would prove impossible.
The government has framed this issue and the legislation that undergirds the hostile environment as if the 2014 – 2016 immigration legislation applies only to post-war migrants from the Caribbean. The fact that this same legislation is causing hardship to and in an increasing number of cases shortening the life of migrants and settlers from Africa and from South Asia appears to be of no consequence.
The government would prefer us to focus only upon the activities of the UK Border Agency after the immigration legislation of 2014 and 2016 and the ‘hostile environment’ that was typified by government sponsored vans with billboards screaming: ‘Go home or face arrest’. In truth, however, even the most cursory review of post-war immigration legislation would reveal the extent and persistence of a ‘hostile environment’ fuelled by the conflation of race and immigration pretty much since the Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962.
For all the above reasons, therefore, a three-legged approach is necessary, in which as a matter of priority a level of compensation is determined by those whose rights have been denied on account of the activities of employers, landlords, GPs, hospitals, etc., thus leading to loss of employment, capacity to buy food, health care, secure accommodation and basic essentials. A parallel approach should focus on the impact of draconian and racist immigration control practices that have impacted people with the right to remain and those whose human rights have been routinely violated over many decades and the level and nature of the compensation that should be paid for such violations. Third, there clearly is no point in demanding compensation for victims of the ‘hostile environment’ while leaving that ghastly legislation in place, legislation which shamefully the Labour Party supported the Conservative government in putting on the statute book. Any compensation scheme, therefore, should be matched by government action to repeal the immigration acts of 2014 and 2016.
In my view, to do anything else will be to work to an agenda and within parameters set by the same government that wilfully and deliberately set out to target ‘low hanging fruit’ and barbarically pounce upon the elderly and vulnerable in our communities and that is hellbent on getting on with business as usual.