Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 48 Number 11, April 21, 2018 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

The "Windrush Generation Scandal"

Necessity for a Society that Defends the Rights of All Human Beings

The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting has been entirely overshadowed this week by what has been termed the "Windrush Generation Scandal". It has demonstrated to the world the attitude of successive British governments to citizens who migrated to Britain from some Commonwealth countries, often as children, over forty-five years ago. Prime Minister Theresa May and the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, have both been forced to apologise in Parliament. Theresa May was also forced to apologise reluctantly to visiting heads of government from the Caribbean, whom she had previously refused to meet. The current scandal is a direct consequence of the 2014 Immigration Act, but also of other equally racist legislation that has been enacted, before and since, over the last fifty years and more. It highlights, once again, that it is the British state that is the main source of racism in society. It also highlights the contempt which successive governments have displayed towards the countries of the Commonwealth and their former citizens.

Windrush passengers at Tilbury Dock June, 1948

In recent years the Home Office, acting under the powers of the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts, has demanded that some British citizens, mainly of Caribbean origin, prove their rights to British citizenship, even if they have been living and working in Britain for decades. The 2014 Act was introduced by the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, who claimed that its aim was to create a "really hostile environment" for "illegal immigrants", by requiring immigration checks to be carried out by landlords, health and education workers and state officials. As was pointed out by democratic people at the time, it was clearly designed and would clearly operate in an openly discriminatory and racist manner. The 2016 Immigration strengthened and extended many of the draconian provisions of the 2014 Act. 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 even despatched vehicles with billboards throughout London demanding that such migrants leave the country and "go home" at the earliest opportunity.

The current scandal has highlighted the fact that some of those who have lived and worked in Britain for many decades but were born in Commonwealth counties have been denied medical treatment, been refused employment or lost jobs, housing and benefits, while some have even been detained and threatened with deportation.

First immigrants from the Caribbean

It has also revealed that rather than the Home Office keeping immigration records to determine when people entered the country, these disembarkation records were deliberately destroyed several years ago prior to the 2014 Immigration Act, which places the onus on individuals to prove their citizenship status. The destruction of such records by the state made this much more difficult in numerous cases and added to the discriminatory treatment meted out. Whistle-blowers within the Home Office have pointed out that the ramifications of destroying such records were perfectly well understood at the time. The major political parties are now blaming each other for authorising this destruction. The consequence has been that even when individuals provided tax returns and national insurance payments over decades this evidence was deemed insufficient by the Home Office, which demanded the impossible - four separate pieces of evidence for each year an individual claimed residence in Britain. Such demands have also required those labelled "illegal immigrants" and "over-stayers" to seek costly legal assistance, led to distress and anxiety and in at least one case is thought to have led to premature death.

The present scandal shows that just as the British government treats the Commonwealth as a means of perpetuating economic and political domination over former colonies, as well as other counties, it is also attempting to treat some citizens as if they are still colonial subjects. Indeed, even colonial subjects had the right to live and work in Britain, something successive governments have attempted to deny to those of Commonwealth origin who have lived in Britain for decades.

53rd Anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, Windrush Square, Brixton, 2018

The present scandal has also coincided with the promotion of the 50th anniversary of the so-called "Rivers of Blood" speech given by the infamous racist Enoch Powell. It has led some to conclude that his policies and those of neo-Nazi organisations have now been implemented by a British government. But it must be pointed out that racism and a reactionary anti-people approach have been essential characteristics of successive governments to immigration during the entire post-1945 period. These governments have refused to accept that migrants are human beings, treat them as human beings and guarantee their rights.

The scandal has already led to protests by the heads of Caribbean countries and many politicians, whilst over 160,000 people have signed an online petition calling on the government to cease its discriminatory treatment, change the burden of proof and provide compensation and "justice for tens of thousands of individuals who have worked hard, paid their taxes and raised children and grandchildren and who see Britain as their home". Demands for compensation have also now been made by David Lammy MP and Andrew Holness, the Prime Minister of Jamaica.

We call on all democratic people to affirm the necessity for a modern definition of citizenship and to demand an end to racist immigration and asylum laws. This is part and parcel of the struggle to create a society that guarantees the rights of all by virtue of being human.


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