THE Windrush scandal has exposed how the Tories’ hostile environment has devastated people’s lives and the potential it could have on many of us. The public is outraged.
Much of the media and even right-wing MPs have attempted to reflect public anger and forced previous home secretary Amber Rudd to resign.
Her adviser Hugh Ind, the former director general of immigration enforcement, quietly resigned soon after Rudd and is moving to the Cabinet Office.
In the 1940s, people across the British colonies, especially from the Caribbean who spoke English, were invited by the government to help rebuild war-torn Britain.
They worked hard in the NHS, transport and other key areas, dealing with racism and spearheading justice campaigns.
They and their children built their lives here. Yet for years they have been targeted by the Home Office, separated from loved ones, lost jobs, homes, refused healthcare, education, pensions and other rights.
People have describe receiving text messages ordering them to leave the country and living in terror from having to report weekly or monthly to the Home Office, under constant threat of detention and removal.
Many of those treated in this brutal way were pensioners or carers for elderly people. One woman was put in detention though she was caring for her 92-year-old father. She worried constantly about whether he would survive, although, fortunately, he did.
Others paid thousands of pounds in legal fees trying to prove the obvious, that they were citizens. It is estimated that tens of thousands may have been affected. However, it has yet to be revealed exactly how many people have been deported from Britain, suffered permanent harm or even died.
The government promised it would acknowledge the citizenship of the Windrush generation and pay compensation, partly because Commonwealth heads of government were meeting in London when the scandal broke.
Who will get compensation, for what and how much is part of the ongoing battleground, but many are still to have their right to be here recognised.
New Home Secretary Sajid Javid, a former investment banker turned MP who has constantly voted for a stricter asylum system, has asked Windrush citizens to “share their experiences to … shape a bespoke compensation scheme.”
Yet the Home Office is still to make public how and why it imposed the “hostile environment” for immigrants, asylum seekers and even on British citizens.
We need to know more about the 2012 £40 million deal the coalition government struck with outsourcing firm Capita to remove over 150,000 irregular migrants. The “pay by results” basis of the contract amounts to a bounty for each person deported.
For five years, the Home Office had regular complaints from MPs and others about this policy of mass deportation which overrode the legal process.
The environment has been so hostile that many are too frightened to come forward and make their case. About 5,000 calls to the helpline have been reported, but only 850 people have got their documents. An amnesty is urgent.
The Home Secretary’s call for evidence about what people have suffered has hardly been advertised. The June 8 deadline is unreasonable and must be extended.
There are serious concerns the government may delay compensation, renege on promises or try to use this moment to split Commonwealth residents from others.
Already, the Home Office has quietly recruited charities to help deport asylum-seekers and their children. The All African Women’s Group has complained that: “They are pushing us into voluntary return, posing it as an alternative to detention.”
None of us came for the weather. No matter how and when we came, we have contributed, rebuilt lives, have families, friends and roots here.
The corporate media rarely reports on how many British people — in schools, churches, food banks, neighbourhoods and community centres — are defending those threatened with deportation. We don’t want our communities torn apart.
“I feel ashamed to be British,” a white, working-class man told me recently at a Camden Momentum meeting. “These are people we grew up with, went to school with, played football with, work with.
“The Tories created the hostile environment, but New Labour’s hands aren’t clean either. We can’t forget the shameful Control on Immigration mugs.
“It’s all the more shameful as black people have been among the most loyal Labour voters, reflected in the positive and encouraging responses we got from voters of colour throughout the recent elections.”
At the same meeting, in which a motion was passed urging Labour MPs not to support the Tories’ hostile environment policies, a woman of colour said: “African, Asian, Caribbean and other Third World people have contributed over centuries to European wealth.
“We have suffered through imperial conquest, slave trades, plunder of resources, proxy wars, ecological devastation, Western-backed dictatorships, rape and other torture.
“More recent immigrants from Europe have also contributed with hard work. The NHS would not function without immigrants. Farming, agricultural, caring, and service industries all depend on immigrant workers who are among the lowest paid.”
Sara Callaway is an activist for Women of Colour Global Women’s Strike.
We All Have A Right to be Here, an event bringing together those targeted by the “hostile environment” and organised by Caribbean Labour Solidarity and Women of Colour Global Women’s Strike, takes place Thursday May 31 from 7pm at Unite the Union, 33-37 Moreland St, EC1V 8BB.
For more details visit: mstar.link/WomenOfColour.
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