Author: May Bulman
Ministers urged to act as Commonwealth citizens who arrived as children with ‘windrush’ generation denied access to healthcare, losing jobs and even threatened with deportation
Commonwealth citizens who have lived in Britain for decades after arriving as children are being made “destitute and stateless” due to the government’s hostile environment policies, politicians and diplomats are warning.
A meeting at the Jamaican High Commission on Thursday will see politicians, diplomats and campaigners demand that ministers provide an immediate remedy for a “developing situation” in which, due to changes in the immigration system, Caribbean immigrants are being deemed “illegal immigrants”.
It has emerged in recent months that Caribbean nationals who came to Britain between 1948 and 1973 with the “windrush” generation are being denied access to NHS healthcare, losing their jobs and even being threatened with deportation.
Now high profile figures, including the high commissioner for Barbados to the UK, the first black bishop in the Church of England and Labour MP David Lammy, are urging the government to “affirm the rights of those who have lived here for decades”.
Of around 550,000 people from the Caribbean who migrated to the UK between 1948 and 1973, some 50,000 who are still in the UK may not yet have regularised their residency status, according to information from the Migration Observatory at Oxford University.
Many of these elderly migrants are now being barred from working, being refused access to government services including NHS treatment, and facing the loss of welfare and housing benefits.
One man, Albert Thompson, who has lived in London for 44 years after having arrived from Jamaica as a teenager, went for his first radiotherapy session for prostate cancer only to be told that unless he could produce a British passport he would be charged £54,000 for the treatment.
Despite having worked as a mechanic and paid taxes for more than three decades, Mr Thompson’s free healthcare was denied and he was evicted last summer, leading him to be homeless for three weeks.
In another case, Michael Braithwaite, who arrived in Britain from Barbados in 1961, lost his job as a special needs teaching assistant after his employers ruled that he was an illegal immigrant.
In a third case, 61-year-old Paulette Wilson, who has been in Britain for 50 years, received a letter informing her that she was an illegal immigrant and was going to be removed and sent back to Jamaica, the country she left when she was 10 and has never visited since.
The predicament of these Caribbean nationals is further exacerbated by the burden of proof placed on these individuals to demonstrate that their residency in the UK predates 1971.
Guy Hewitt, the high commissioner for Barbados to the UK, said: “Being a product of the Commonwealth, London-born of Indian and Barbadian migrants to the UK, I am dismayed that this situation could even exist in the 21st century; that people who gave their all to Britain could be seemingly discarded so matter-of-factly”.
Labour MP David Lammy, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community, meanwhile said: “This inhumane treatment is not who we are as a country and it’s time for the Home Office to stop causing anxiety and fear among those who have contributed so much to Britain over five decades.
“The solution is simple: confirm the status of everyone who arrived from the Commonwealth before 1971 and make it easier for them to provide documentation demonstrating their status.”
Dr Wilfred Wood, the first black bishop in the Church of England and recognised as the second most significant black Briton for his work on race relations in the UK, said the current actions towards these immigrants was a “betrayal of Commonwealth immigrants in Britain”.
He went on to suggest that for them to “now find themselves hunted, uprooted and deported like common criminals, comes close to being a crime against humanity”.
A petition has been launched calling for an amnesty for anyone who came to the UK as a child between 1948 and 1971 to have their rights in the UK affirmed by the government.
Patrick Vernon, social commentator and editor of Black History Month magazine, who set up the petition, told The Independenthe hoped it would garner 100,000 signatures, which would mean it would be considered for debate in parliament.
“People came and were guaranteed status. People have worked and paid their taxes, and then they receive a letter from the Home Office saying they’re classed as an over-stayer. It’s shocking,” he said.
“I’ve had a lot of people contacting me who are concerned and worried about this. It’s caused people a lot of mental distress. People want their lives back; their lives are on hold.
“I suspect there could be thousands of people in the same situation who are not yet aware of it. It’s not until something happens – like when people need to access healthcare or renew their passport – that the Home Office informs people.
“Why should people wait until it happens to them? These people have come here legally and have British citizens – why should they prove their residency?”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We value the contribution made by former-Commonwealth citizens who have made a life in the UK.
“We want to assure individuals who have resided in the UK for an extended period but feel they may not have the correct documentation confirming their status that there are existing solutions available. They should take legal advice and submit the appropriate application with correct evidence so we can progress the case.”