Author: Amelia Gentleman
At least three members of the Windrush generation who were wrongly deported to the Caribbean died before officials were able to contact them to help them to return the UK, the Jamaican foreign minister has said.
In the past week, the Home Office has presented Jamaica’s foreign ministry with a list of 13 people detained and removed in error from the UK. British officials have asked for help in contacting the relatives of the three people believed to have died.
Kamina Johnson-Smith, the Jamaican foreign minister, described the situation as “unfortunate”.
“We have just received the information that they are dead. We have to find the families,” she told the Guardian in an interview at her Kingston office.
British officials have informed their Jamaican counterparts that they have already made contact with eight of the surviving 10 people, and also asked for assistance in finding two other people who are believed to still be alive and living somewhere in Jamaica.
But the process of tracking people down has not been easy, Johnson-Smith said, and involved members of her staff driving to areas of the island in search of people believed to have been wrongly deported.
“There are no mobile numbers on the national registry. You might end up in a community, asking if people know the people who live beside them. It can be quite painstaking,” she said. “Our team is on it every day.”
Johnson-Smith said she had been upset to read accounts of how people had been affected by the Windrush scandal. “People’s lives have been impacted in a serious way. Families have been impacted and that is a terrible thing,” she said.
“It is an emotional issue. The stories are heartrending – there is no other word to use. Once you focus on people, it is hard to step away from the emotions … I think all of the cases are upsetting in a different way.”
Jamaican residents had felt “a mix of hurt and anger” when the scandal emerged, she said.
The British government’s response to the crisis had “certainly improved”, Johnson-Smith said, and it had not destabilised Jamaica-UK relations. “We have maintained a collaborative approach. So far so good,” she added. Jamaican officials believed there was a “sincere effort” on the part of the British government to make things better.
“We are trying to play our part in ensuring that rights are restored where they have been taken away and a sense of justice is felt by persons who have been affected, and that this is all done in a timely way. We want to be sure as best as possible that something like this does not happen again.”
The Jamaican foreign ministry has published several newspaper appeals for people affected by the scandal to come forward so immigration status problems can be resolved.
Thirty-five cases have been registered as a result, mostly involving people who believe they were wrongly refused re-entry to the UK, despite having spent most of their lives there, after a trip to Jamaica for a holiday or funeral.
Most of them did not want any publicity about their situation. “People generally view their immigration status as a very private matter,” Johnson-Smith said.
The British high commission in Kingston has distributed 5,000 cards around Jamaica, explaining how people can get in touch. Working alongside Jamaican officials, they narrowed down an initial list of 63 people who might have been wrongly deported.
Asif Ahmad, the high commissioner, has spoken publicly of how disturbed he was by the emerging scandal, noting that his family could easily have faced similar problems.
“We have had terrific cooperation from the Jamaican government. The Jamaican prime minister has personally been involved. We have narrowed down the unidentified cases to two. There is a real spirit to resolve this,” he said.
Jennifer Housen, an immigration lawyer in Kingston who has helped members of the Windrush generation who were refused re-entry to the UK after holidays in Jamaica, said she had dealt with about 30 cases in the past eight years.
She believes at least one of her clients recently “died heartbroken” at not being able to return to her children in the UK. She had lived in England for about 50 years, but moved back to Jamaica when she retired.
“Retirement here wasn’t what she expected. She wanted to go back home. We fought for three years for her to go back, and they said no. We sent letter after letter. She became so exhausted and depressed,” Housen said.
When Housen made contact again after the scandal emerged, she discovered the woman had died.