A growing number of cases of Home Office mistreatment of non-Caribbean Commonwealth-born citizens are emerging, indicating that the problem is likely to spread beyond the Windrush group. Immigration charities and MPs reported that numerous new cases had been reported this week of individuals from countries from India, Kenya and Cyprus to Canada.
Echoing the hidden nature of the Windrush cases the scale of the problems experienced by those from non-Windrush nations appears to be only gradually emerging.
A spokesperson at the Canadian high commission said: “To the best of our knowledge, the High Commission of Canada has not been contacted by any Canadians seeking assistance in matters related to Windrush.”
But Margaret O’Brien, 69, who moved to the UK from Canada in 1971, described battling over two years to persuade the Home Office to believe that she was here legitimately. She was threatened with removal to Canada, where she has no surviving relatives; her disability benefits were suspended, leaving her impoverished.
Another Canadian, Mary-Ann Astbury, who has lived in the UK for 47 years, has received an apology from the Home Office after she was told she could not renew her passport. Astbury told the BBC that she had moved from Canada with her adoptive parents in 1971. Home Office staff said they had been in contact with her to discuss her options for applying to naturalise as a British citizen.
Experts at the Oxford-based immigration centre, the Migration Observatory, which calculated that up to 57,000 Commonwealth-born, long-term UK residents had never formalised their status in the UK, said the problems extended “well beyond” the narrow group of Windrush nations. The body estimates that there are around 15,000 Jamaicans and 13,000 Indians in this situation.
People attend an event in Windrush Square, Brixton, south London, organised by Stand up to Racism in solidarity with the Windrush generation and their families.© PA People attend an event in Windrush Square, Brixton, south London, organised by Stand up to Racism in solidarity with the Windrush generation and their families.
Robert McNeil, deputy director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said: “The issue of citizenship and residence rights for Commonwealth migrants in the UK who arrived before and during the early 1970s does not just affect those from the Caribbean. Tens of thousands of people from other Commonwealth countries in Asia, Africa, the Americas and elsewhere may also be in the same boat – even though they didn’t arrive on the Windrush.”
One immigration caseworker described how he and colleagues had spent three years trying to help a 58-year-old Kenyan-born woman of Indian origin, whose parents brought her to the UK when she was seven in 1967. Her former partner had thrown away all her documents, so she had nothing with which to prove her right to be in the UK. She spent three years sleeping on friends’ sofas and in homelessness hostels.
File photo 22/06/1948 of Jamaican immigrants welcomed by RAF officials from the Colonial Office after the ex-troopship HMT ‘Empire Windrush’ landed them at Tilbury.© PA File photo 22/06/1948 of Jamaican immigrants welcomed by RAF officials from the Colonial Office after the ex-troopship HMT ‘Empire Windrush’ landed them at Tilbury.
Who are the Windrush generation?
They are people who arrived in the UK after the second world war from Caribbean countries at the invitation of the British government. The first group arrived on the ship MV Empire Windrush in June 1948.
What is happening to them?
An estimated 50,000 people face the risk of deportation if they never formalised their residency status and do not have the required documentation to prove it.
Why is this happening now?
File photo dated 28/03/1954 of the 14,651 ton British troopship Empire Windrush© PA File photo dated 28/03/1954 of the 14,651 ton British troopship Empire Windrush
It stems from a policy, set out by Theresa May when she was home secretary, to make the UK ‘a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants’. It requires employers, NHS staff, private landlords and other bodies to demand evidence of people’s citizenship or immigration status.
Why do they not have the correct paperwork and status?
Some children, often travelling on their parents’ passports, were never formally naturalised and many moved to the UK before the countries in which they were born became independent, so they assumed they were British. In some cases, they did not apply for passports. The Home Office did not keep a record of people entering the country and granted leave to remain, which was conferred on anyone living continuously in the country since before 1 January 1973.
What is the government doing to resolve the problem?
On Monday, the home secretary Amber Rudd announced the creation of a new Home Office team dedicated to ensuring that Commonwealth-born long-term UK residents would no longer find themselves classified as being in the UK illegally.
Protesters gather in a solidarity rally in Windrush Square, Brixton, south London, to show support for the so-called Windrush generation© PA Protesters gather in a solidarity rally in Windrush Square, Brixton, south London, to show support for the so-called Windrush generation
“For three years she was destitute and reliant on friends for support,” said the caseworker. Although they were able to gather over 20 years of national insurance contributions, this was not enough for the Home Office because she had no identity documents and could not prove when she arrived in the UK.
“We were recently successful and she was issued with a biometric card as evidence of her right to be in the UK. But she is a very vulnerable person and it has taken a severe toll on her mental wellbeing. When we gave her the documents, she broke down; she was just crying and crying,” the caseworker said.
The home secretary’s announcement on Monday was titled “Windrush Migrants” and she paid repeated, effusive respects to that specific group, lamenting the “hardship they had endured” as a result of her department’s policies. “It is only right that the significant contribution the Windrush generation have made to the UK is recognised,” Amber Rudd said. There was little focus on non-Caribbean nations.
However, Home Office staff said they would benefit from the same assistance package announced by Rudd to the Windrush people on Monday. “The offer will be available to people from all Commonwealth countries, not just Caribbean nationals.”