This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday April 26 2018.
A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect. WEB Du Bois.
The Queen recently announced that Prince Charles will take over from her as Head of the Commonwealth. Anitha Sethi shook his hand recently at a Commonwealth function. Her ancestors were from Guyana and her skin is brown. The future Head of the Commonwealth said: “Where are you from?” She said “Manchester”. The Prince retorted jovially: “Well, you don’t look like it!” The Commonwealth summit was meant to project an image of a ‘global Britain’ open to the best and brightest once the UK is free of the shackles of the EU. future.
When the Queen formally opened the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting on April 19, revelations relating to what has become known as “the Windrush generation” were casting a cloud over the proceedings. A large number of people who went legally to the UK have found themselves wrongly caught up in the “hostile environment” Theresa May said in 2012 that she wanted to create for illegal immigrants. Legislation passed in 2014 required employers, NHS staff, private landlords and others to demand evidence of people’s citizenship or immigration status. An estimated 50,000 people face the risk of deportation if they had failed to formalise their residency status. Many have lost their benefits, jobs, homes and access to health care.
Even before 2012, people were being deported in murky circumstances. According to The Scotsman, since 2010, more than 7,600 people have been forcibly, fitted with restraints and escorted by security personnel, sent to Pakistan, Nigeria, Ghana, Sri Lanka and Jamaica on charter flights in secret, in the middle of the night.
Welcome to Britain
In June 1948, the ship Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Dock, east of London, with 492 migrants from the West Indies. They were responding to an advertisement in a Jamaican newspaper offering cheap transport for anybody wanting work in the UK. Acute labour shortages led Britain to encourage mass immigration and the British Nationality Act of 1948 gave UK citizenship to all people living in British colonies with full rights to settle in the UK. Successive governments wooed workers from the Commonwealth and even the white supremacists’ hero, Enoch Powell, when he was Minister of Health recruited thousands of black employees into the NHS. The transport system would not have operated without Caribbean personnel.
Where Are You From?
Leighton Joseph Robinson had been living in Britain since he was six. He went back to Jamaica for the first time for his 50th birthday. He was stopped at the airport and was told that he did not have the correct paperwork to get into the UK. He was stuck in Jamaica for 21 months, separated from his family in Northampton and living in squalid accommodation. When he returned to the UK he was evicted from his flat because he owed £4,500 for unpaid rent and council tax.
Albert Thompson, 63, arrived in the UK from Jamaica as a teenager in 1973, and has lived there without a break ever since. He needs radiotherapy for his prostate cancer but an administrator at the Royal Marsden Hospital told him unless he could produce a British passport he would be charged £54,000 for the treatment. He was evicted because of suspicion about his status and he was homeless for three weeks.
Paulette Wilson once worked in the House of Commons restaurant serving meals to MPs. More recently, she has made and served meals to homeless people at her church. She is a 61-yer-old grandmother who has lived in the UK for over 50 years. She left Jamaica when she was ten and has not been back since. She received a letter saying she was going to be sent to Jamaica. This meant she lost her housing and sickness benefits and she was rendered homeless. She spent a week at Yarl’s Wood detention centre before being sent to the immigration removal centre at Heathrow. Her forced removal from the UK was only prevented by the last-minute intervention of her local MP Emma Reynolds and the Refugee and Migrant Centre in Wolverhampton. Many organisations dealing with such cases say that cuts in legal aid make their job very difficult. Ms Wilson will have to report again to the Home Office in December. The application to process leave to remain documents costs more than £240, money she does not have.
A Times editorial said that the prime minister’s policies had their foundation in “the corrosive assumption that immigrants are a problem rather than a benefit.” More next week on what this issue says about multicultural Britain and the moral standing of British politicians.