Author: Josh Halliday
Seventy years ago on Thursday, the Empire Windrush sailed imperiously into Jamaica’s capital, greeted by throngs of spectators. Among them were musicians and boxers, craftsmen and clerks, all chasing dreams of a better life in the mother country.
The 70th anniversary should have been a moment of national pride on both sides of the Atlantic. Instead in Jamaica there is deepening resentment over the treatment of those who left for Britain, amid the spiralling consequences of what has become known as the Windrush crisis.
“I will never trust the English again,” said Melvin Collins, a 72-year-old former Midlands youth worker, who has been stranded in Montego Bay since his passport was revoked without explanation in 2015. He, like many others, is desperately seeking answers from the British government.
From Kingston to Negril, families recall villages being decimated by the long exodus to Britain. Others recount the racism they faced on arrival. Those who worked for years to rebuild Britain from the ashes of war feel the sharpest betrayal.
What is the Windrush deportation crisis?
Who are the Windrush generation?
They are people who arrived in the UK after the second world war from Caribbean countries at the invitation of the British government. The first group arrived on the ship MV Empire Windrush in June 1948.
What happened to them?
An estimated 50,000 people faced the risk of deportation if they had never formalised their residency status and did not have the required documentation to prove it.
It stems from a policy, set out by Theresa May when she was home secretary, to make the UK ‘a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants’. It requires employers, NHS staff, private landlords and other bodies to demand evidence of people’s citizenship or immigration status.
Why do they not have the correct paperwork and status?
Some children, often travelling on their parents’ passports, were never formally naturalised and many moved to the UK before the countries in which they were born became independent, so they assumed they were British. In some cases, they did not apply for passports. The Home Office did not keep a record of people entering the country and granted leave to remain, which was conferred on anyone living continuously in the country since before 1 January 1973.
What is the government doing to resolve the problem?
A new Home Office team was set up to ensure Commonwealth-born long-term UK residents would no longer find themselves classified as being in the UK illegally. But a month after one minister promised the cases would be resolved within two weeks, many remain destitute.
The Jamaican government has contacted some Windrush victims in the past week, as it scrambles to remedy cases where people have been wrongly expelled from Britain. Yet, four weeks on from a government minister’s pledge to have all cases resolved within a fortnight, there is little official indication about the true scale of the problem on either side of the Atlantic.
Jamaica’s two biggest newspapers, the Gleaner and the Observer, have run advertisements from the country’s ministry of foreign affairs appealing for Windrush cases to contact its helpline.
All across the island, charities, lawyers and homeless drop-in centres have been left mystified by the fate of the elusive 63 deportees confirmed by the new home secretary, Sajid Javid. None have come to the attention of the handful of dedicated – and overstretched – Jamaican charities working in that field, including the National Organisation of Deported Migrants (NODM), which is funded by the British high commission.
In a rundown office block in downtown Kingston, hidden among streets of boarded-up or burnt-down buildings, NODM’s president, Oswald Dawkins, explains why those removed from Britain have not yet been found: the stigma. “A lot of people who are deported, they don’t necessarily come out of their shell. They don’t want people to know they’ve been deported so a lot of time they won’t make contact with agencies or even individuals,” he said.
There is a famous song by the reggae star Buju Banton, himself a deportee, about the shame attached to those who return to Jamaica penniless.
The stigma is most keenly felt by the older generation, according to Dawkins, who would include Windrush-era migrants who arrived in Britain before 1973 and have been deported since 2002.
Dawkins said deportees – who are mostly from the US, Britain and Canada – would feel too ashamed to ask friends or relatives for help in their ancestral villages so they often ended up homeless, usually disappearing into the chaotic human slipstreams of Kingston or Montego Bay.
This is what happened to Ken Morgan, whose British passport was confiscated by immigration officers when he visited Jamaica for a family funeral 25 years ago. The 68-year-old former English teacher, from Walthamstow, was destitute and isolated. Yet shame stopped him returning to Clarendon, the parish where his family lived, and instead he stayed in temporary accommodation close to the British high commission, a fortress-like building set behind three-metre-high walls protected by spikes, barbed wire and a 24-hour security checkpoint.
“When you leave here and go to England or Canada or United States, you’re technically supposed to come back rich. You’re supposed to come back and buy a big house,” Morgan said. “Otherwise why did you go? What are you doing there, if you don’t come back with money?” His sharp east London accent also held him back: “The worst thing was the way I spoke. I couldn’t open my mouth. I can blend in here physically, I can just look like everybody else. But as soon as I open my mouth, I’m not supposed to be at that level. You can’t be broke.”
The focus on deportees could mask the true scale of the problem, according to charity workers, since those kicked out of Britain are usually offered more official help than the many more who are prevented from trying to return to the UK. It is those stopped from returning – usually for minor paperwork errors not of their own making – that make up the vast majority of Windrush cases in Jamaica, according to Jennifer Housen, a Kingston-based immigration lawyer who said she had dealt with more than a hundred “hostile environment” cases in the past 10 years.
“How it affected most people is them coming on holiday here and not being able to go back [to Britain],” she said. “I’ve had people here who’ve lost their homes because they’ve had to spend weeks and weeks and weeks here trying to prove their identity.”
Source : https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/may/23/ill-never-trust-the-english-again-jamaicas-windrush-backlash-70th-anniversary