YESTERDAY, campaigners marked the 72nd anniversary of the landing of the Empire Windrush, bringing hundreds people to live and work here from the Caribbean, by launching legal action against the Home Office to demand that the ‘Hostile Environment’ is scrapped.
Pushed by the Tories, when ex-PM Theresa May was Home Secretary, the policy of creating a ‘Hostile Environment’ continues today, where people are threatened with incarceration and deportation.
It has been 72 years since the Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks on June 22 1948 carrying some 500 people from Jamaica.
May’s ‘Hostile Environment’ resulted in thousands of people who came to Britain from the Caribbean in the decades following the Second World War – being wrongly denied rights, banned from even using the NHS, losing their jobs, losing their homes, incarcerated in detention centres and in many cases deported to places they barely knew.
Windrush campaigner Michael Braithwaite spoke out yesterday about the ‘injustice and humiliation’ of being deemed illegal in the country he called home for more than 50 years.
Braithwaite, who arrived from Barbados as a child in 1961, lost his job as a special needs teaching assistant for not having an up-to-date identity document two years ago.
The 68-year-old married father-of-three, who has six grandchildren and lives in north London, said the ordeal of ‘being told I was nobody’ still causes him great mental anguish.
Braithwaite also dismissed the government’s ‘token’ attempts and ‘lame excuses’ to remedy the scandal and criticised the compensation scheme for victims of the affair.
He said: ‘I think about the sense of injustice and humiliation, the don’t-care attitude about people who came here to build this country. I look at it and think we’ve not moved on … families are still struggling.
‘We’re still not recognised for what we’ve done and we’re still in debt and we still have bills to pay.
‘To take my freedom away the way they did … it makes me very emotional when I think about that day when I was told I was nobody. I was not recognised as part of where I live, the work I’ve done. My journey was taken away.’
Campaigners including Braithwaite handed in a petition to Downing Street last week signed by more than 130,000 people calling for action to address failings which led to the scandal.
Of 1,275 claims for compensation made so far, only 60 payments have been made, and 529 people have been waiting for more than a year.
There has been just £360,000 distributed from a fund which officials expected might be required to pay out between £200m and £500m.
On this issue Windrush lawyer Jacqueline McKenzie said yesterday: ‘The Home Office is treating people with contempt.’
She said: ‘I think the politicians believe that the majority of people in Britain are racist and don’t want migrants here, and so they all play to the gallery.’
She is helping to file 200 separate claims on behalf of people affected by the Home Office citizenship scandal.
Meanwhile, the author of a report into the Windrush scandal is warning there is a ‘grave risk’ of similar failures happening again if the government does not implement its recommendations.
Wendy Williams said the Home Office still needed to ‘make good on its commitment to learn the lessons’.
However, only as recently as this February, just before the coronavirus crisis broke, a total of 17 people were deported on a chartered flight to Jamaica by the Johnson government.
Johnson had intended to deport a plane-load, but there was such an outcry that he was unable to deport them all.
The action was condemned by campaigners, including 170 cross-party MPs, as ‘forcing families apart’ along with mass demonstrations outside Downing Street.
It was a last minute struggle as the Court of Appeal judge ruled that the government should not deport 25 detainees from Colnbrooke and Harmondsworth detention centres, near Heathrow, after lawyers argued that mobile phone signal problems meant some of the detainees could not get legal advice.
They were taken off the bus on the way to the airport, saving them from deportation.