The stories that have been emerging in recent months about our Government’s treatment of people from the Windrush generation are horrifying. They arrived here to help rebuild communities like West Ham after the devastation of World War II, and they have contributed in so many ways throughout their lives. Our Government is repaying many of them with hostility, threatening them with imprisonment and deportation simply for failing to possess documents that were never freely offered and never previously required.
The ‘hostile environment’ strategy that Theresa May set up as Home Secretary, has been a disaster for so many citizens and vulnerable individuals. It treats people like criminals. The Windrush generation has been caught up whilst just going about their daily business, applying for jobs, housing, going to the doctor, seeking help from the police, using their banks, applying for benefits, or simply accessing their hard earned pensions. Suddenly, out of the blue, they receive threatening letters, telling them they are no longer accepted in our country. Imagine it - after fifty years, living in Britain, bringing up their families, being part of all it is to be British to be told to leave. The word betrayal does not seem strong enough to describe these actions by our Government.
This has massively impacted on our communities. Our friends and neighbours are fearful of reporting crime, going to the doctor – anything that brings them to the notice of officialdom. What an awful way to live after years of service to a country that no longer wants to recognise your contribution. It just wants you gone. It labels you as a criminal, as someone who has been getting something for which they not entitled. Imagine the shame, the humiliation, the fear and the righteous anger that this has caused.
The indignities that many of the Windrush generation have faced have been told in our media and the Government’s response has been truly disgraceful. They tell our friends and neighbours to ‘Go Home’, they patronise them with tips about how to sound and act Jamaican, criminalise, imprison, and deport, only to concede that Britain was actually their rightful home all along.
Even now, the Prime Minister repeats the Home Office mantra that ‘no-one should fear deportation who has a right to be here’. She is so wilfully out of touch with the effects of her strategy that she thinks this is reassuring! But to the many people who have justifiably lost all faith in the Home Office, these words will sound hollow at best and at worst like just another threat.
This has to stop. The Labour Party is demanding that the Government offer a fast, free and effective service to all those affected, providing the necessary documents to ensure they can continue to live here free of threats of deprivation, detention and deportation. The Government must act fast to change their own procedures, accepting that not everyone has extensive documentary proof of the years that they have lived and worked in our communities.
The Government also needs to apologise to each and every Windrush citizen who has been abused by their policies. I think we need to see compensation paid to refund the legal costs of those who have been forced to defend themselves, and to those who have lost jobs, housing, benefits, or access to healthcare when they needed it. Anything less will be an even further betrayal.