British PM climbs down and agrees to meet Caribbean counterparts over deportations
Outcry against UK’s treatment of Windrush generation of migrants unites a widespread opposition
The British prime minister has reversed a decision not to meet Caribbean leaders over a threat of deportation hanging over thousands of migrants from Caribbean countries, many of whom arrived in the country as children decades ago and are known as the Windrush generation.
They are named after the
Windrush, one of the first ships to bring Caribbean migrants to the UK in 1948 in the aftermath of the Second World War.
Theresa May had initially turned down a request from 12 countries for the matter to be discussed at this week’s Commonwealth summit in London.
But faced with a growing outcry that threatened to overshadow the biennial gathering of the alliance of the UK and its former colonies, Downing Street said yesterday that Mrs May would, after all, meet her counterparts from Caribbean states to discuss the matter.
The U-turn came after a letter signed by 140 MPs, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, urged the government to find an “immediate and effective” response.
Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday afternoon, Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, said a new task force will ensure that those affected will get a “swift response” when they approach the Home Office for help. She said that fees would be waived.
Ms Rudd apologised for the treatment of some Windrush migrants. “Frankly, some of the ways they have been treated has been wrong, has been appalling and I am sorry,” she told MPs in Parliament.
The Labour MP David Lammy, who had tabled the urgent question on the issue in Parliament, said Ms Rudd’s apology did not go far enough. He blamed the Home Office, then under Mrs May, for creating a “hostile environment” for immigrants.
“Let us call it as it is. If you lay down with dogs, you get fleas, and that is what has happened with this far-right rhetoric in this country.”
Ms Rudd admitted that the Home Office has, at times, been “too concerned with policy and strategy” and that sometimes it “loses sight of individuals”.
On Twitter, Mr Lammy rejected that response. “You should be considering your position because of this,” he wrote.
The U-turn took place after the Immigration Minister, Caroline Nokes, appeared to admit that some people had already been deported as a result of not having the right papers.
Asked by an ITV journalist if that was the case, she said: “There have been some horrendous situations which as a minister have appalled me.”
When pushed to clarify whether that meant yes, and if so, how many people had been deported, Ms Nokes replied: “No, I don’t know the numbers.
“But what I’m determined to do going forward is say we will have no more of this. We want people to have confidence to come to the Home Office. We want to give them a message of reassurance, because I value these people.”
When asked the same question later on in Parliament, Ms Rudd insisted she was not aware that anyone had been deported because they lacked Windrush generation paperwork.
Some Windrush migrants have even had their access to public services withdrawn.
A man of Caribbean origin, Albert Thompson, was told he was not eligible for cancer treatment on the NHS because he could not prove he was legally in the UK.
The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford told
The National that up to 57,000 of the half million people who moved to the UK before the 1971 Immigration Act came into law could be at risk of being removed from the country.
That act enshrined the right for Commonwealth citizens to have indefinite leave to remain in Britain – but those who had come over before that date often do not now have the papers to prove that they are legally allowed to live in the country.
Another senior Conservative MP, Sajid Javid, the Communities and Housing Secretary, said he was “deeply concerned ... this should not happen to people who have been long-standing pillars of our community. The government is looking into this urgently.”
They are now either pensioners or are approaching that age, and who have spent their working lives paying taxes in the UK, now facing uncertainty.
The dispute is an unwelcome distraction for Britain, which hopes to use the biennial Commonwealth summit to bolster its bid for free trade deals around the world after the UK leaves the EU next year.
The Barbados High Commissioner, Guy Hewitt, said he felt the UK was snubbing people from the Caribbean.
“I have held as a great honour the fact that I am the first London-born High Commissioner for Barbados,” he told the BBC. “This is the first time I have felt that the country of my birth is saying to people of my region ‘you are no longer welcome’.”
Homeland actor David Harewood also condemned the action.
“All across the Caribbean, for many, England was the mother country. When she put out the call for nurses and teachers to come help rebuild after the war they came to assist and start new lives,” he said on Twitter.
“That they should be turfed out after 50-odd years’ hard work and graft is a disgrace.”
The issue has united almost every British political party, from the Greens to UKIP, as well as disparate media voices from The Guardian to The Daily Mail.
Jamaicans on board the Empire Windrush. Many people from that generation of migrants are threatened with deportation