Windrush: The Perfect Storm.
However, the recent April 16-20 (2018) Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London--portrayed by some and perceived by others as an opportunity to revitalise the Commonwealth and reassert the relevance of the organisation for a new generation of citizens--became less a facilitator and more an enabling canvas on which to catapult, into the limelight, an historic wrong which negatively affected many of the very Commonwealth citizens in whose name the Commonwealth Summit was supposed to pursue futures that were more sustainable, more prosperous, more secure and ultimately, fairer.
Fortuitously, a confluence of events during the month of April proved that when small states pool their diplomatic heft or draw on the currency of their partnership, they can successfully animate processes that bring about positive change. Through collective actions, a long-festering issue of grave injustice was given a national and international voice and a group of Commonwealth Caribbean citizens had reason to hope for fair treatment and compassion. It showed that small Commonwealth states can also become their own agents of change. In this instance, the Caucus of High Commissioners, having determined that they could not wait for or depend solely on the Commonwealth to act as their change agent, came together in a call for fairness and justice.
This tale of injustice began seventy years ago, with a post-World War II call from Britain to her then colonies for workers to migrate to the United Kingdom to address critical labour shortages. It is a story that, for far too long, had insulted the hard work, sacrifice, and aspirations of a generation of people, referred to as the Windrush Generation--a reference derived from the vessel, HMS Empire Windrush, which brought hundreds of West Indians to the UK, at the behest of the British Government, to rebuild Britain after the Second World War.
As a matter of context, after the war, Britain did not benefit from a Marshall Plan, like other western European countries. Many West Indians, heeding the call from the 'Mother Country', unreservedly marshalled their energies and commitment in bold sacrifice to help the UK rise from the ashes of war. It is estimated that between 1948 and 1973 approximately 550,000 West Indians migrated to the United Kingdom. (1)
However, this journey was not without its peril. Many Caribbean migrants faced indescribable hostility. Some still recall the infamous "rivers of blood" speech by Enoch Powell; the Teddy Boys and Notting Hill race riots; and the signs that said, "No Irish, no blacks, no dogs". (2) Nonetheless, they persevered, and with toil, sweat, and tears played an essential role in helping to build a modern, global Britain. Some of the many outstanding individuals who left the West Indies and subsequently call[ed] the UK home include nursing pioneer Mary Seacole; broadcasters Sir Trevor McDonald and Moira Stuart OBE; Bishop The Rt Revd Dr Wilfred Wood; composer Errollyn Wallen; footballers, the late Cyrille Regis MBE and John Barnes MBE; train guard Asquith Xavier; Professor Stuart Hall; athlete Linford Christie OBE; actors the late Norman Beaton, Carmen Munroe OBE, and Rudolph Walker OBE; racehorse trainer Sir Michael Stoute; and the late author, Samuel Selvon.
In fact, when the Windrush Generation and their children arrived, they were British subjects, from British colonies, carrying British passports. They should, therefore, never have been caught up in this category of illegal immigrants--stigmatised, denied access to work, banking services, housing and pension benefits and medical treatment. Notwithstanding, Caribbean diplomats sought to draw the necessary attention to this matter. Repeated requests for redress from High Commissions were greeted with denials and requests for specific cases with supporting data. High Commissioners became further aware that the 2010-2012 Home Office review of the eligibility criteria and conditions attached to the main non-European immigration categories legislated in the Immigration Act 2014 "made it easier to remove people refused permission to stay in the UK" (by reducing the scope to appeal and simplifying the removal process). It also "created a more 'hostile environment' for people living in the UK without a 'valid' immigration status". (3)
These changes also had a negative impact on residents of Caribbean descent and things became drastically more onerous as the British Government's new policy required employers, landlords, schools, banks, and doctors to check each person's immigration status. Many of these long-term, elderly UK residents were deemed undocumented; the consequence of having left the Caribbean as "Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies", when their islands were still British colonies, thereby understandably considering themselves to be British. (4) Further, having arrived in the UK and securing the requisite leave to remain, and subsequently employing their skills and industry to rebuild the UK, establishing multi-generational families and paying their fair share of taxes in the UK, it never occurred to them that they could be anything but British. The legal and emotional significance of these facts seemed to have been lost on Home Office authorities or deliberately ignored. Thus, the dithering continued while some Windrush Generation individuals were made destitute; alienated from loved ones, unfairly persecuted and punished, and deported by a system more eager to meet political targets than acknowledge these citizens' humanity and legal residence. But this, the current government contends, is an "unintended consequence".
Nevertheless, it is said that these unconscionable practices seemed to have gone on for years but with little notice, save a few cries in the wilderness from Caribbean High Commissions, immigration charities and the occasional reporter. For instance, the High Commissioner for St Kitts & Nevis and his staff first flagged this issue in 2014. Barbados formally raised it with the UK in 2016 and CARICOM Foreign Ministers raised it with the then UK Foreign Secretary during a UK-Caribbean Forum in Freeport, The Bahamas. The Caucus of High Commissioners followed up, after the forum, with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2016. Yet, no one fully appreciated the magnitude of the problem until Amelia Gentleman, a multi award-winning specialist Journalist with the Guardian, got involved. Her tenacity led her to the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, which exposed the possible extent of the crisis: that up to 57,000 migrants who arrived from Commonwealth countries before 1971 were at risk, having never had their status regularised. (5)
The very necessary and public reckoning of the scope of the problem prompted an apology to Caribbean heads of government by Prime Minister Theresa May and former Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Finally, there was recognition that an historic wrong committed against the Windrush Generation had to be acknowledged and corrected. To date, however, promises by former Home Secretary Rudd (she subsequently resigned on April 29) and successive pledges by her successor, Sajid Javid, are yet to be unambiguously outlined and shared with Heads of Missions who await specifics on the Windrush Generation's entitlement--such as guarantees of full British citizenship or compensation--and a clear process through which individual applications will be reviewed and progressed.
It seems unlikely, though, that this situation would have evolved with fairness had several events not taken place in April, including the series of articles by the Guardian cataloguing the appalling treatment meted out to individuals of the Windrush Generation; the decision of the CARICOM heads of mission to brief the media on April 12 as part of its "engagement strategy" on the treatment of the Windrush Generation; and the partnership with the likes of the Runnymede Trust, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), and the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Race and Community, among others.
The last six months revealed heart-wrenching stories of the forgotten Caribbean 'warriors'--who had braved the Atlantic Ocean and the unfamiliar British weather to tail on the Tube and other public services; to work in the factories, on railways and roads--being discarded and their rights delegitimised. The public heard stories of people denied care in a National Healthcare System (NHS) that they and their parents helped to build and maintain. The public read stories of people being removed from their homes, detained and treated as opportunistic illegal migrants to be deported, at the earliest opportunity, to lands they either did not know or would no longer recognise.
This generation had suffered in silence and was slowly becoming resentful of an immigration system that long appeared to resent their presence, to tire of them and seemed ungrateful for or oblivious to their sacrifice. It told a story of a Britain--often lauded as multicultural and international but which proved heartless at home where its long-suffering "children of the Empire" were deliberately made to feel unwelcome. We saw a system revelling in an 'us versus them' mindset, as political expediency, where officially sanctioned hostility percolated and settled so deep within the system that those delivering its prescribed harmful medicine did not seem to spare a thought for how in the [mis] treatment of the Windrush Generation, they were violating the rights of their own people. They seemed to say to the world, we value history--evidenced in monuments and museums spanning the length and breadth of the UK--but these people's historic sacrifices were irrelevant and could be invalidated and discarded.
The UK Government's notion of unintended consequence is rightly openly challenged. Gary Younge, Editor-at-Large at the Guardian, argues that "hounding Commonwealth citizens is no accident. It's cruelty by design." (6) The aim, he suggests, was to make life in Britain so onerously difficult for immigrants that they would "in the words of Mitt Romney 'self-deport'". The revelation that the Home Office may have set removal targets lends credence to this assertion. Apparent institutional racism or xenophobia is a problem borne out in the experiences of several individuals, including former British High Commissioner, Arthur Snell. The UK's former envoy to Trinidad & Tobago spoke of feeling "powerless and nervous" in 2011 when the Home Office refused to grant his newborn son a passport. While able to "quickly resolve" his situation, Snell said it illustrated a "cultural priority within the Home Office to reject wherever possible". (7) Speaking to the press he suggested, "What it showed me was that the Home Office tends to default to 'no' as an answer because of the hostile policies. It seems they want to make it as difficult as possible for someone to be British--like that's almost their mission statement."
As the days wore on, an audacity of courage saw a timely and pivotal collaboration in the seminal work of Amelia Gentleman; the tenacity of Channel 4 News and the commitment of Caribbean heads of mission and the West Indian diaspora. It was also a tribute to the incredible bravery of those whose lives and livelihoods were injured in this crisis but who bravely came forward, after suffering in silence, to carry the burden and become the face of the Windrush Generation: Elwaldo Romeo, Paulette Wilson, Renford McIntyre, Michael Braithwaite, Sarah O'Connor, Anthony Bryan and Sylvester Marshall, to name a few.
This also underpinned a useful collaboration between the High Commissioners of Barbados and St. Kitts & Nevis, their Excellencies Guy Hewitt and Kevin M. Isaac, who effectively alternated roles as 'bad cop' and 'good cop' in such a way as to dispel the [mis]perception that the diplomat's craft is largely confined to "protocol and alcohol". This partnership, grounded in the firm support of the CARICOM Caucus of Heads of Mission, was also driven by faith and a righteous indignation of the type that demanded inclusiveness and fairness, mixed within a potent "mocktail" of traditional and guerrilla diplomacy. Having recognised the limitations of modern diplomacy, bilateralism, and multilateralism, it was the emerging awareness of guerrilla diplomacy that offered the best options for progress.
The notion, developed by David Copeland, a former Canadian diplomat, "charts the course for a new kind of diplomacy, one in tune with the demands of today's interconnected, technology-driven world." (8) He provides a framework to address issues ranging from climate change, pandemic disease, and human rights to grassroots democracy, asymmetrical conflict, and weapons of mass destruction. While occupying the opposite end of the spectrum from traditional, state-centric diplomacy, Copeland's is not a call to recklessness. He advises that "the guerrilla diplomat will need the sensibility and street smarts of a world traveller, the knowledge of a New Age polymath, and the enterprising spirit of an entrepreneur." This approach was adopted and operationalised to good effect.
For further intellectual sustenance, the Caucus relied heavily on the visible support of several Caribbean foreign ministers and key prime ministers, who, during separate meetings with the UK Government, raised the matter. They also sought, through outreach by High Commissioner Hewitt, the support of Lord Herman Ouseley, a Guyana-born Crossbencher in the House of Lords, acclaimed for his work on racial equality. Our advocacy also won backing from the Rt Hon David Lammy, MP; Gary Younge; Satbir Singh; Dr Omar Khan; and key agencies like the Runnymede Trust; the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Race and Community; the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), the leading UK charity campaigning for justice in immigration, nationality, and refugee law and policy; Praxis Community Projects, which works with vulnerable migrants; parliamentarians, specifically the APPGs on the Caribbean, Commonwealth, Human Rights, Migration, Race, and Community, Social Integration, and Visas and Immigration. The Westminster Home Affairs Committee and Foreign Affairs Committee were also engaged, as was a human rights network in Europe. HC Hewitt also engaged the Church of England, the Caribbean Council and Caribbean students' associations in various universities.
The Caribbean diaspora was encouraged to find its voice and become full partners, which they did. Incredibly, CARICOM Heads of Mission had earlier requested a bilateral meeting with British Prime Minister May and CARICOM Caribbean counterparts, as obtained in previous CHOGMs, but were advised by the PM's Office that "the PM's programme is now finalised, and this will not be possible." Alternatively, the Caribbean was advised that "the Foreign Secretary was keen to meet Caribbean colleagues" and told that a meeting with him would be "desirable, to touch base with his office". This was perceived by some as a snub. Despite a request to postpone the April 12 press briefing, and the usual inclination for the caucus to operate at the speed of the slowest member, that did not obtain in this instance. There was near unanimity to forge ahead and CAR1COM came together in common cause and spoke with one single, united voice on behalf of the Windrush Generation.
Supporting our efforts was Dr Wilfred Wood, the first Black Bishop in the Church of England, who has been recognised as the second most significant black Briton for his work on race relations in the UK. He stated that the actions by the UK Government against the Windrush Generation were a "betrayal of Commonwealth immigrants in Britain" and to "now find themselves hunted, uprooted and deported like common criminals, comes close to be a crime against humanity." Lord Herman Ouseley said "regularising the settled status of these loyal residents should be a priority for the government as opposed to making them 'illegal', destitute and stateless..." Award-winning author Andrea Levy, whose father came to Britain on the HMS Empire Windrush, holds that "for Britain to treat its former colonial subjects in such a way is a violation of natural justice and of its historical responsibility..." (9)
Over the weekend of April 14, public support for the Windrush Generation grew, reflected in parliamentary and Change.org petitions. The UK Government and Parliament Petition 216539, created on April 6, 2018 by Patrick Vernon OBE, called for "amnesty for anyone who was a minor upon arrival in Britain between 1948 to 1971". It attracted more than 15,000 signatures in twenty-four hours and by Sunday, April 15, had gathered the 100,000 signatures required to trigger a debate in Parliament. With the Caucus Coalition undertaking multiple daily interviews, at noon on Monday, April 16, we learned that "the Prime Minister [May] would be very pleased to meet Caribbean Heads or their representatives (Foreign Ministers or HCs) tomorrow at Downing Street from 11.30 for 30/40 minutes." The message underscored the point that "the PM deeply values the contribution made by the Windrush and all Commonwealth citizens who have made a life in the UK and wants to make sure the Home Office is offering the correct solution for these situations."
At the same time, David Lammy, himself a child of the Windrush Generation, who had secured 140 cross-party MPs' signatures, sent his letter to May. In an unexpected debate on the matter in Westminster Parliament on Monday, April 16, Lammy criticised the British Government over the treatment of the Windrush Generation migrants, asserting it was a "day of national shame". He called on Home Secretary Amber Rudd to apologise for the threat of deportation facing some people who arrived from the Commonwealth as children. In a major climb-down in position and U-turn in policy, she did.
By Tuesday, April 17, Windrush was front page on nearly every UK newspaper and carried by CNN, the Associated Press, Reuters, Al Jazeera and RT. That same day the Guardian revealed that thousands of Windrush-era landing slips had been destroyed by the Home Office. It seems, however, that they were not destroyed but "relocated" to the National Archives. In effect they were lost as no one could seemingly locate them to process the Windrush applicants.
Perhaps it was also unintended consequences which saw Windrush dominating national headlines, drawing attention away from CHOGM, where heads were supposed to discuss the future of the Commonwealth and the succession of the head. It threatened the goodwill that the UK had anticipated would emerge to confirm post-Brexit ties with old allies. (10) The episode also raised concerns as to whether the Home Office could fairly handle the claims of EU residents after Brexit, when thousands of EU citizens would need to show that they have the right to remain in Britain. The European Parliament Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, stated that full guarantees on EU citizens' rights were needed in the wake of the Windrush crisis.
On Thursday, April 19, Caribbean Commonwealth High Commissioners met Home Secretary Amber Rudd. The meetings focused on partnerships to resolve the challenges affecting the Windrush Generation. The Home Office promised to disclose whether people were in detention or had been removed based on a previously incorrect assessment that they did not have settled status in the United Kingdom. During this meeting, the Home Office was encouraged to re-examine the British Nationality Act of 1948, specifically whether the journey of Caribbean-born persons to the UK, as Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, was in fact an act of internal migration, equivalent to the movement of the English, Scots, Welsh and Northern Irelanders within the UK borders.
The subsequent offer on April 22 by the Government of full British citizenship to the Windrush Generation was a bright ray of hope signalling that, finally, the Perfect Storm was nearing an end.
(1) United Kingdom Census 1971
(2) Cohen, Phillip, and Harwant S. Bains, eds. 1988. Multi-racist Britain. UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
(4) The British Nationality Act 1948 created the status of "Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies".
(5) Based at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford, the Migration Observatory provides impartial, independent, authoritative, evidence-based analysis of data on migration and migrants in the UK, to inform media, public and policy debates, and to generate high-quality research on international migration and public policy issues.
(6) The Guardian. 2018. "Immigation and Asylum Opinion." 13 April.
(7) The Independent. 2018. "British High Commissioner's baby son denied a UK passport after being born in Trinidad." April 25.
(8) Copeland, Daryl. 2009. Guerrilla Diplomacy: Rethinking International Relations, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.
(9) Press release on Caribbean Commonwealth High Commissioners media briefing, April 12, 2018.
(10) Trade Secretary Liam Fox previously stated, "As the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, we have the opportunity to reinvigorate our Commonwealth partnerships and usher in a new era, harnessing the movement of expertise, talent, goods and capital between our nations in a way that we have not done for a generation or more."
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|Title Annotation:||Notes and Comments|
|Author:||Hewitt, Guy; Isaac, Kevin M.|
|Publication:||Social and Economic Studies|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2018|
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