Britain has threatened to detain and deport Commonwealth nationals, including Windrush-era citizens. Thousands of individuals have been denied their rights to continued occupation and residence in the UK because they cannot provide documentation to prove their citizenship.
Between 1948 and 1971, approximately 50 000 people from the Caribbean, known as the Windrush generation, arrived in the UK upon invitation by the British government, in order to help rebuild Britain after the second world war, when there had been a shortage of workers. Under the Nationality Act of 1948, all Commonwealth citizens were then recognised as British citizens and granted automatic citizenship. However, they were never formally naturalised.
The 1971 Immigration Act allowed Commonwealth citizens the right to remain in the UK. However, the Home Office failed to issue paperwork in order to prove their citizenship. In 2010, the Home Office destroyed landing card slips which documented arrival dates. These card slips are a vital resource used to resolve issues regarding immigration status. Since none of these records remain, Windrush citizens are thereby unable to prove their legitimate right to reside in the country, and will face difficulties as they attempt to resolve their immigration status as Labour MP, David Lammy, attested: “It is an absolute disgrace that the Home Office has destroyed these documents and then forced Windrush-generation migrants to try and prove their status, threatening them with deportation and stripping them of their rights.”
A policy called ‘hostile environment’ had been introduced in 2013 by Theresa May, as home secretary. In doing so, the Home Office’s aim had been to instigate hostility and make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to continue living in the UK, which they hoped would eventually lead to self-deportation. The policy had been launched without consideration for any reverberating social consequences, and was simply developed with the intention to crackdown on illegal immigration and reduce net migration numbers. The Windrush generation, though not the original targets of this policy, have suffered its effects. The government failed to exclude Commonwealth citizens, including the Windrush generation from the ‘hostile environment’ policy. Under the law, they are now treated as illegal immigrants.
Uncertainty and fears of deportation for Commonwealth citizens and their families who have lived and worked in Britain for the majority of their lives are growing. Those who are facing discrimination are mostly retirement-age citizens who have lived in the UK for decades, and have contributed to society as tax payers. Yet, these individuals are not receiving pension and have been denied access to public services and medical treatment by the National Health Service (NHS). Newly tightened immigration laws mean employers, landlords, NHS staff, and other authorities are required to demand evidence of citizenship. Consequently, many people are faced with deprivation, and some have already been detained at immigration removal centres, lost employment, and/or have been evicted from accommodation because they cannot prove they are British citizens.
Theresa May has since met with and apologised to 12 Caribbean government leaders for the poor treatment of Windrush citizens. Despite threats of deportation, the Prime Minister has made a promise to ensure that no one will be deported, stating that, “We would also like to reassure you that there will be no removals or detention as part of any assistance to help these citizens get their proper documentation in place.” The Home Office has further suggested that affected people should seek legal advice and apply for citizenship.
However, recent legal aid cuts and expensive application fees have made legal assistance inaccessible for people who are destitute from unemployment and denied benefits. To remedy this, the current home secretary, Amber Rudd, has announced a new Home Office sector which will focus on resolving cases within two weeks, to no application fee. Unfortunately, due to a great number of people requiring documentation, this is not a feasible time-frame.
An amendment to legislation would provide an immediate solution. The clause that had previously been removed from the Immigration Act should be reinstated in order to protect all longstanding Commonwealth citizens and make them exempt from enforced removal. As for a long-term solution, it would be optimal to issue documentation for Windrush citizens and establish their right to remain in the UK, as they should be granted access to all the citizenship benefits and services that they are entitled to. In addition, any citizens who were wrongfully detained, deported, or denied access to services should be compensated. The Home Office is investigating 232 cases after setting up a hotline amid reports, suggesting that some claimants may be entitled to six-figure payouts. A compensation claim against the Home Office may be launched in response to potential breaches of the Human Rights Act.