Due to losses during the war, the British government encouraged mass immigration from the British Empire and Commonwealth countries to come to Britain to fill shortages in the labour market. Many West Indians felt encouraged to come for better prospects based on what they had read and heard of Britain – the mother land. The mother land as at this time, people of the countries of the British Empire and Commonwealth were actually classified as part of British. A key marker in the arrivals from the West Indies was the docking of 802 migrants to the port of Tilbury from a ship – HMT Empire Windrush on the 22nd June 1948. It’s from the arrival of this ship and subsequent arrivals during this period that we come to talk of the Windrush Generation.
In 2018 there was quite an uproar when it became public knowledge that a number of the Windrush generation who had come to Britain as children from the West Indies were under threat of being deported from Britain as despite the fact that they’d been to school in Britain, worked in Britain and paid taxes here in Britain, they weren’t readily able to show that they had the right to live here under the Immigration Legislation put in place by Theresa May in 2015 when she was Home Secretary. Suddenly they were in the position of being asked for documentation such as a British birth certificate or passport – as many of them had come to Britain on parent’s passports and the government had not kept the documents that they had used to travel to Britain it was difficult for them to prove their right to live here.
This was a scandal because we are talking of people that had lived and worked in England for most part of their lives. Critically their parents had come to the UK at the stage when Britain needed help in rebuilding following on from the war. British officials had gone to the West Indies to recruit people to come to Britain. The Windrush Generation are people that have lived amongst us as co-workers, neighbours and friends – they are us. This meant that people from all backgrounds were deeply disappointed by the way in which they were treated with some suddenly no longer being able to work because of the lack of paperwork; some left feeling threatened, uncertain and unwanted; some sent to detention centres with the threat of deportation with some actually being deported. I would specifically say that a key concern with this was that there was a lack of imagination used in reviewing cases with the onus being on individuals to provide very specific documents to prove that they have the right to live here.
This was not the first scandal in relation to the Windrush Generation though. The first scandal came with their actual arrival in Britain. While British officials such as Enoch Powell travelled to the West Indies to recruit people to come to the UK to work, a few years later, he was making speeches that expressed a concern that to many people of colour were coming to the UK and would soon take over. Ref: The Rivers of Blood Speech. The people that came from the West Indies to the UK were typically highly skilled individuals leaving family behind to come to the motherland. They were typically not given the opportunity of jobs that aligned to their skillset though. Furthermore they were discriminated against not just in the workplace, but in all other areas of live such as housing with signs on houses that said “No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irish” being quite common.
To me, this was therefore just as big a scandal as what came to light in 2018. Imagine the pain of both situations…..
Young skilled professionals leaving their families and children at home to come to the motherland where they were told that their help was needed. Eventually being reunited with children that didn’t immediately recognise them.
Similarly in 2018, families being separate once more as the Windrush children who may have faced separation from their parents at a stage were faced with the threat or actually separated from their own children and grandchildren that were born in and living the Britain.
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