|Volume 50 Number 41, November 14, 2020||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Recent reports in the press have highlighted the fact that the government has done little to right the wrongs perpetrated in what became known as the "Windrush Scandal".
It emerged in 2017 that thousands of British citizens who had arrived in Britain from the "New Commonwealth", and particularly from Caribbean countries, prior to 1973 had been wrongly detained, deported and denied legal rights as a result of the so-called "hostile environment" policy pursued by the Home Office. Although formally announced by the then Home Secretary Theresa May in 2012, the term had first been used by the Labour Immigration Minister, Liam Byrne, in 2007. In his words a "hostile environment" was necessary to "flush out illegal immigrants".
After 2012, falsely targetted as "illegal immigrants" or "undocumented migrants", some citizens began to lose their access to housing, healthcare, bank accounts and driving licenses. Many were placed in immigration detention centres, prevented from travelling abroad and threatened with forcible removal, while others were deported to countries they had not seen since they were children, even though they had lived and worked in Britain in some cases for over forty years. The government's "hostile environment" was aided by the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts, as well as by other equally racist legislation that had been enacted before and since. The 2014 Immigration Act emerged from a racist campaign whipped up by all the main political parties, which alleged that so-called illegal migrants constituted a major problem confronting society. The Coalition government of the day even despatched vehicles with billboards throughout London demanding that such migrants leave the country and "go home" at the earliest opportunity. The scandal highlighted once again that it is the British state that is the source of racism in society.
HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary carried out a review of the scandal, and an investigation of the circumstances surrounding it, which was published earlier this year. The main conclusions of the review confirmed what was well-known already - that the scandal was the result of deliberate government policy, based on decades of racist immigration legislation.
Since 2018, successive governments have made a great fuss about having learned lessons from the Windrush scandal, even claiming that such events must never happen again. However, only a few weeks ago Wendy Williams, the author of the review, made it clear that the government had done very little or nothing, and that the "hostile environment" is still in existence. Speaking to the home affairs select committee, Williams reiterated her view that the Home Office required urgent reform. She expressed surprise that less than two hundred of those victimised by the Home Office had received any form of compensation, two and a half years after the government accepted that they were entitled to it. According to figures released by the Home Office, only 12% of those entitled to compensation have received any. Therefore only 1% of the funding set aside for such claims has been paid out. Many of those affected have died before the Home Office managed to provide any form of reparation, including the well-known campaigner Paulette Wilson, who died weeks after delivering a petition to the government demanding that it act more swiftly. Those affected by the actions of the Home Office have voiced similar criticisms pointing out that although the government has accepted all the recommendations of the William's review few, if any, have been implemented. They also point out that the government's tardiness in addressing the victims of the Windrush scandal is in stark contrast to the speed with which it has further clamped down on the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, who it also refers to as "illegal immigrants".
The fact that the "hostile environment" is still in operation, and that the government has done little to compensate those affected by it, speaks volumes. It also puts into context the government's repeated claim that it is concerned with racism, as well the aim of the so-called Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which was established in July this year. As many have pointed out, the facts are well-established, well-known and well-documented.
As one informed commentator has pointed out, the main impact of the "hostile environment" has been on those who live and work in Britain, since in addition to those rights denied by the state it also leads to more discrimination against minority communities in such areas as housing. It is for these reasons that some have claimed that the "hostile environment' constitutes harassment under Equality Act of 2010, a law which, needless to say, has not been enforced against the government.
Neither reforms of the Home Office, nor government enquiries and commissions will alter the fact that it is government and the entire state apparatus that remain racist to the core and the main source of racism and inequality in society. What is required is that all democratic people take up the problem of racism for solution, by stepping up the struggle for the rights of all which has been so evident this year. People must keep these struggles in their own hands by establishing the mechanisms for change and empowerment, that can usher in a new society where the people are the decision-makers and rights of all are guaranteed.