Monday, April 23, 2018

Amelia Gentleman - Britain’s reputation has been shattered by the cruelty of the government’s immigration policy

Retirement-age citizens who have lived and paid taxes in the UK for decades have been detained, made homeless, sacked or denied benefits and NHS treatment because they have struggled to prove they are British. Seven days ago, the government had barely acknowledged the scandal. Everything changed this week. In the space of five days, the prime minister was forced to apologise twice for the hurt caused to victims, while the home secretary said she was sorry for the “appalling” actions of her own department and issued a strong rebuke to her staff. Amber Rudd said she was “concerned that the Home Office has become too concerned with policy and strategy and sometimes loses sight of the individual”.

See Labour MP David Lammy denounce official racism
Son of Windrush couple refused passport and misses daughter’s wedding
Home Office urged to act on Windrush in 2014
The shame, indignation and sadness caused by the Windrush scandal

What happened to prompt this sudden admission of culpability? How was it possible for the government to ignore for so long the Guardian’s detailed reports of the tragic problems unleashed on passport-less Windrush-era citizens by Theresa May’s flagship immigration policy, the “hostile environment for illegal migration”, that she launched in 2013 as home secretary? A series of articles were published in the Guardian, prompting shock from our readers and indifference from the government. We documented the cases of people such as Paulette Wilson, 61 (former kitchen worker at the House of Commons, made homeless, detained and threatened with removal to Jamaica, after 50 years in the UK), Michael Braithwaite, 66 (sacked as a special needs teaching assistant after 56 years in the UK), Hubert Howard, 61 (sacked and unable to visit his dying mother after 49 years in UK), and Albert Thompson (not his real name, denied NHS cancer treatment and told it would cost him £54,000 after four decades paying taxes).

These were people who had contributed for decades and whose lives had been destroyed by Home Office harassment over their immigration status. All of them are here legally, but none of them have the documentation to prove it. May’s tightened immigration rules mean officials have begun demanding to see papers, often targeting those who they suspect (judging by accents and skin colour) may not have them. When the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, raised Thompson’s case with May in parliament last month, she said she was not aware of it. Obviously the prime minister is busy, and maybe doesn’t read the Guardian much, but it is curious that no one in her office thought this issue serious enough to brief her on it.

It reveals something about Britain that these cases did not attract noisy universal condemnation sooner. Several victims speculated on whether this would have happened to them if their skin were a different colour. The fact that some of these cases go back two or three years and never made the headlines, and were not highlighted by MPs, also says something uncomfortable about racism in this country... read more: