Apology for migrants as UK backs down
BRITAIN: The British home secretary has apologised for the ‘‘appalling’’ treatment of Windrush migrants from the Caribbean, as the government’s climbdown on the issue threatened to overshadow the opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in London.
Commonwealth migrants who were previously assured of their place in the United Kingdom have been threatened with deportation, sacked from their jobs and been denied access to health services after being unable to prove their status. It comes at a time when Britain is attempting to strengthen its relationships with the Commonwealth and expand trade links post-Brexit.
Critics pointed out that the Windrush generation of immigrants, who have been in Britain for half a century or more, were being denied rights available to European Union citizens.
As well as her apology yesterday, Home Secretary Amber Rudd appeared to criticise Prime Minister Theresa May, her predecessor as home secretary, after she questioned the direction of the Home Office.
May was in charge of the Home Office in 2012 when key protections for the Windrush generation – named after Empire Windrush, the first ship that brought migrants to Britain from Jamaica in 1948 – were removed. Some have since been told they may have to leave, despite having spent the majority of their lives in Britain.
Yesterday May was forced into an about-turn, hours into the Chogm summit, after previously saying she would not discuss the Windrush cases with the assembled heads of government. She will now hold talks this week, as the leaders prepare to decide whether the Queen should be replaced by Prince Charles as the head of the Commonwealth.
Rudd was forced to apologise in the House of Commons, admitting that some of the treatment of the Windrush generation had been ‘‘appalling’’, and denying that anyone would be forced to leave.
She announced a task force to help people prove their right to stay. She said she was ‘‘not aware’’ of any deportations but appealed to journalists and campaigners to come forward with evidence of forced removals if they had any.
In an embarrassing day for the Home Office, Rudd agreed with critics who said the government should look again at the way it treated immigrants, amid claims that ministers were too focused on cutting numbers. She said her department had ‘‘become too concerned with policy and strategy, and sometimes loses sight of the individual’’.
Rudd had earlier apologised to the Windrush migrants, stating: ‘‘Frankly, some of the ways they have been treated has been wrong, has been appalling, and I am sorry.’’
There was criticism from Caribbean nations. The High Commission for St Vincent and the Grenadines labelled the Home Office’s actions ‘‘shameful’’. Barbados High Commissioner Guy Hewitt said: ‘‘Because [the migrants] came from colonies which were not independent, they thought they were British subjects.’’
Under the 1971 Immigration Act, enacted in 1973, all Commonwealth citizens living in the UK were given indefinite leave to remain. However, the Home Office did not keep a record of those granted leave to remain or issue paperwork confirming it, meaning it is difficult for the individuals to now prove they are in the UK legally.
Changes which took place under May in 2012, designed to curb immigration and remove illegal migrants, further complicated matters by requiring landlords, employers and the National Health Service to confirm whether anyone who was not born in the UK had the right to stay.
However, many Windrush immigrants are older or the children of people who have since died, and have struggled to prove their right to remain. This has led to some being sent to deportation centres and only being saved from forced removal by campaigners.
British Home Secretary Amber Rudd has apologised to Caribbean migrants threatened with deportation.