Reflections on the Windrush Scandal

Today’s blog comes from Patrick Vernon OBE, Windrush campaigner and activist

At a recent public meeting at the Malcolm X Centre in St Pauls which was hosted by Mayor Marvin Rees and Deputy Mayor Cllr Asher Craig I was invited to reflect on the Windrush Scandal as we approach the second anniversary in April 2020. With the recent deportation flight, low pay out of the compensation scheme and now watering down of the forthcoming Lessons Learnt Review this still reminds us that we are still a long way off from justice and writing the wrongs of the Windrush Scandal.

We must remember: over 180,000 people signed my petition in March 2018 with the demand for an amnesty for anyone who was a minor that came to Britain between 1948 and 1973; the media stories of the victims sharing experiences of the hostile environment; and the lobbying of Caribbean diplomats and race equality and migrant charities. These all contributed to a perfect storm to force the government not only to apologise but to be publicly humiliated at an international level by causing one of the biggest human right abuses of British citizens since WW2.

The government was first in denial that it was an issue, then blamed the Windrush Generation for not sorting out their paperwork. They refused to see Caribbean government leaders and then they were forced to admit that the Immigration Act 2014 and the policy of the hostile environment had caused the scandal. Amber Rudd had no choice but to resign as she lied to Parliament, the public and especially the Windrush Generation. The government responded by introducing the Windrush Taskforce to fast track applications for citizenship; suspended deportation flights; established a Lessons Learnt review and have now launched a compensation scheme.

After nearly two years what would be our assessment of progress? Well, just over 8,000 people have had citizenship, but over 1,000 cases have been refused, mainly with minor convictions or have been told by the Home Office they are not of ‘good character’. There are many thousands of people that have still not come forward to resolve their status as there is still a lack of trust with the Home Office and public bodies who implement the hostile environment policy. We must also remember that five people have died in the UK of long term conditions linked to the stress and trauma of the hostile environment, including Jashwha Moses who came to Bristol from Jamaica aged twelve in the 1960s. He was 64 years old when died in October 2019.

One of the big issues over the last 18 months has been the use of deportation flights as a form of repatriation back to the Africa or the Caribbean. Although flights were suspended for ten months, in February 2019 the Home Office controversially resumed them, even though many people deported had spent of their adult life in the UK with strong family ties. The campaign group Movement for Justice and BME Lawyers for Justice played an important role in forcing the Home Office to reduce the numbers that eventually got deported. I was in Jamaica in March 2019 and I had the opportunity to speak to five people were deported in February. They all shared the following concerns:

  • They all have no money and are dependent on family and friends
  • All had served their sentences and were moving forward with their lives
  • Most of them had caring responsibilities as fathers and or supporting elderly parents with health problems such as dementia
  • Some of their children are not aware that they are deported and may not see them again
  • The impact of deportation is putting tremendous pressure on their partners and family members in the UK
  • All are experiencing anxiety and depression regarding leaving the UK and with high levels of anger about being deported by the British government.
  • All are fearful of their lives as they believe that with the negative media reporting of deportees for many years as criminals, they will eventually become a victim of crime. Also, the recent case of a deportee that was murdered has influenced many to be mindful of their personal safety.
  • All of them stay indoors most of the time. One person described it as being like back in prison
  • Several of them have physical health problems and one person was given six months of medication for their kidney problems. He is not sure what will happen when supplies run out.
  • They all feel they have no real future in Jamaica.

To make matters worse, not only were people deported to Jamaica without any plans for support or rehabilitation, the charity supporting deportees in Kingston, the National Organisation for Deported Migrants, had all their funding cut by the Home Office. This was brought to my attention by Oswald Dawkins from the charity when I was in Kingston. I shared my concerns with the UK High Commissioner in Jamaica, Asif Ahmed and Pernell Charles Jr the Jamaican Foreign Minister. Back in the UK I shared this news with several media outlets and BuzzFeed took on the story about the Home Office in May and successfully help to reverse the funding cuts to the charity.

However, in February 2020 the government resumed flights and 17 people were deported back to Jamaica despite many of the men having spent most of their life in Britain and having been forced from their families.  Recently on Colourful Radio I interviewed some of the detainees who avoided the flight along with campaigners and lawyers about what needs to happen next. One of the concerns is role of the Jamaican government and the lack of support to help people settled in Jamaica once they have been deported.

At the public meeting at the Malcolm X Centre a young man called Romaine Murchison explained his legal battle for staying in Britain despite having all his family in Bristol, but now being forced to report to Home Office once a week with threat that he still faces deportation.

It is important that we campaign for Romaine and other young people who are third generation Windrush that the government is trying to deport.

With regards to the Windrush Compensation Scheme which was launched in April 2019 only £63k has been paid out to 36 people out of 1,000 applications so far. I have raised many concerns regarding the administration of the scheme, and I have launched a petition on 38 Degrees which I hope MPs will use to shape the amendments of the Windrush Compensation Bill which is going through Parliament now.

At the public meeting, Mayor Marvin Rees made several pledges about what he could do to work with local government to community lobby central government around implementation and the impact of the hostile environment, Windrush Compensation Scheme and deportation flights. He wanted to share his concerns with the Jamaican government in policy around supporting deportation flights. Cllr Asher Craig as Cabinet member for Health was also going to raise with the local NHS how they are addressing the health and mental wellbeing needs of those caught up in the scandal.

We also explored what practical things that the council, voluntary sector and lawyers should do to help people to get free independent legal advice on their status as citizens and the compensation scheme.  What is clear from my experience as a campaigner and activist that people are still suffering from the scandal and that the Home Office have failed to engage effectively with grassroots organisations and the advice sector who are trusted spaces for Windrush Generation and families to complete compensation forms and clarification of citizenship status.

That is why in April 2018 I launched the Windrush Justice Fund with the Joint Council for Welfare for Immigrants (JCWI) and support from  Mayor of London and 38 Degrees to provide small grants to grassroots community groups and third sector organisations to support victims of the Windrush Scandal to access their rights under the Windrush Taskforce and compensation scheme.  We raised over £40k using GoFundMe crowdfunding platform and we have now given out two rounds of funding to grass roots organisations and the advice sector. More details here.

Finally, the Windrush Generation and their descendants have made a significant contribution to Bristol from the NHS, education, business, local government, the arts and in public life. They now need acts of kindness and support from local people and for people to lobby their local MPs and elected representatives to hold the government to account.

If you are affected by these issues there is plenty of help available in Bristol:

  • St Paul’s Advice Centre offers advice, information and casework on immigration matters, and can advise those seeking to obtain British citizenship. Further information here: https://www.stpaulsadvice.org.uk/
  • Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors is instructed in a number of Windrush judicial review cases in the High Court as well acting in compensation claims directly to the Home Office. They are also involved in challenging delays in deciding applications for confirmation of status. Further information here: https://dpglaw.co.uk/

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