Author: Rebecca Ratcliffe
The harrowing treatment suffered by members of the Windrush generation under the UK’s hostile immigration environment appalled the public and forced the resignation of a home secretary. Despite having lived, worked and paid taxes in the country for decades, some were taken to detention centres or deported. Others were left destitute after losing homes and jobs.
More than 2,000 people have since had their citizenship formalised, and are rebuilding their lives with support from charities that do grassroots work fighting the impact of the government’s policy. Five of these groups – the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, the Law Centres Network, Praxis Community Projects, the Refugee and Migrant Centre (RMC) and the Runnymede Trust – are the focus of this year’s charity appeal. They helped bring the Windrush scandal to public attention and continue to support all who unfairly fall foul of the immigration system – from legal assistance to accommodation – and promote fairer policies.
Simi Khadijah, 21, Bristol
Khadijah, from Nigeria, was 19, homeless and staying at a night shelter when she was put in touch with Praxis. It was 2016 and her application to remain in the UK had been refused – as had those of her two brothers. Praxis found a lawyer to take their cases pro bono and liaised with another charity to arrange housing. Eventually she and one of her siblings obtained leave to remain.
The conditions of her leave prevented her getting a student loan, but she won a scholarship and has just finished her first term studying economics. Today Khadijah says she doesn’t want to think about where she would be without Praxis: “I don’t want to think negatively, but I think life would have been very difficult.”
Delbert Myrie Clarke, 62, Essex
In July 1969, Clarke came to the UK aged 13. Like many of the Windrush generation, he was never given, and didn’t claim, documents that would prove his citizenship. He had no idea he would ever need to. In 2011, he was evicted by his landlord after complaining about the property he was renting. He approached the council for help, but they asked him to prove his status.
That was the start of a four-year ordeal in which he was repeatedly made homeless. After the Windrush scandal broke, Hackney Community Law Centre helped him challenge the Home Office. “If it weren’t for the law centre, I wouldn’t be sitting here,” he says.
Michael Braithwaite, 66, London
In 2017, Braithwaite’s life was turned upside down. He was working as a special needs teaching assistant and, during a check on his immigration status, his employer ruled he was an illegal immigrant. He had lived in the UK for more than 50 years.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants supported his case. “They said: ‘we’re going to go through this together’. The state of mind I was in at the time – I was scared, I had anxiety, I was very impatient.” When his story was featured in the Guardian, he was overwhelmed with support from former students and their parents.
Today, he has his biometric card, but is still rebuilding his life. “I lost so much of me in that process, so much of my self-worth.” Despite everything, he continues to do youth work. “I couldn’t give up disability work,” he says, “I enjoy watching people get to the next level.”
Fatima al-Mohammad, 48, London
In 2009, Fatima ak-Mohammad and her two-year-old son Abdullah, a British citizen, became trapped in Syria. They had been visiting family when her husband abandoned her, taking their plane tickets with him. As the civil war escalated, she wrote twice to Theresa May to say that she had a British child stranded in Aleppo. She was told to seek advice from a qualified immigration adviser or solicitor.
She contacted several solicitors recommended by the Home Office, but was repeatedly ignored; only Islington Law Centre offered them support. With their help, she was granted a visa and returned to the UK with her son in 2016.