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Tropic Takes on Racism - The Windrush Generation

Tropic Takes on Racism - The Windrush Generation

Welcome to our new blog series Tropic Takes on racism. 

In honour of Black History Month we'll be looking at Black British icons throughout history, and exploring their fantastic contributions to British society.

We recognise that we have a platform and a voice to influence people and strive for change, and we have a responsibility to use it.

Today, we’ll be looking at the Windrush Generation and why it made headlines again this year

WHAT IS THE WINDRUSH GENERATION? 

The Windrush Generation refers to those who arrived in the UK from Caribbean countries between 1948 and 1973. 

They were all British citizens and had the right to live and work in Britain. During this time, legislation meant that British subjects connected with the United Kingdom or a British colony had the status of citizenship and settlement in the UK. 

Many people from the Windrush Generation were actively encouraged and indeed invited by the British Government to come to the UK and take up the overabundant job vacancies on offer that were not being filled, in roles such as electricians, farmworkers, working in foundries and the NHS. 

Windrush refers to the actual ship MV Empire Windrush, which docked in England back in June 1948, bringing initially 802 workers from the Caribbean. 

An estimated 500,000 people now living in the UK are from the Windrush Generation, be it from making the journey themselves or descendants.  

Many people from this group faced hostility from the British public. There was little legal protection from discriminating based on race, and this continued until the Race Relations Act of 1968.

Places to live and rent were often expensive and offered low living standards. Churches were known to shun black worshippers, in order to appease the white congregation. The term "No blacks! No dogs! No Irish!" was used as a way of denying services and goods. 

After the 1971 Immigration Act, Commonwealth citizens already living in the UK were given indefinite leave to remain. However, the government kept no record of those granted leave to remain and issued no paperwork, making it difficult for Windrush arrivals to prove their legal status.

WHAT IS THE WINDRUSH SCANDAL?

In 2010, the Home Office destroyed thousands of landing card slips recording Windrush immigrants’ arrival dates in the UK.

Then in 2012, the government introduced the ‘Hostile Environment’ legislation – a policy that tasked the NHS, landlords, banks, employers, and many others with enforcing immigration controls.

A person’s arrival date was crucial to a citizenship application, because the 1971 Immigration Act gave people who had already moved to Britain indefinite leave to remain. 

Many of the Windrush Generation arrived as children on their parents’ passports without their landing cards, therefore now lacked the documentation to prove their right to remain in the UK. 

The Home Office also placed on individuals the burden of proving that their residency predated 1973.

The Home Office demanded at least one official document from every year that they had lived here to prove they were here legally.

Anyone can understand that the prospect of attempting to find documents from decades ago might have created a huge and in many cases impossible burden on a group of people who had until then simply just been existing. 

It aimed to make the UK unlivable for undocumented migrants and ultimately push them to leave. The Windrush Generation started receiving letters claiming that they had no right to be in the UK.

Some were treated as illegal immigrants. Some lost jobs, homes, benefits and access to the NHS. This was the very same NHS that in 1948 welcomed them because they were willing to do the jobs that others weren’t. To amplify this insult, legal citizens were placed in immigration detention centers and some were even deported. Those abroad on holiday were refused back into the only country they had ever known.

It eventually made headlines in April 2018. The UK government apologised for deportation threats made to Commonwealth citizens' children.

The inquiry, which released its report in March 2020, said that the scandal was ‘foreseeable and avoidable’. Its report criticised ‘a culture of disbelief and carelessness’ in the Home Office.

While compensation has been promised to those affected, according to the most recent Home Office figures from May, just 4.7% of applications for compensation have been granted payments.

As The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants stated: 

Nothing can truly atone for what happened to the Windrush victims. But just as the scandal marked a turning point in public understanding of what the negative obsession with immigration has caused, so this review must mark a turning point in Government attitudes towards immigration, if Britain is to believe in its own capacity for humanity, decency and fairness. 

HOW IS THE SCANDAL STILL AFFECTING PEOPLE?

In London alone, an estimated 107,000 children and 26,000 18-24-year-olds are without secure immigration status. Despite more than half being born in the UK, the high cost of immigration and citizenship fees mean that they are unable to access higher education, open a bank account, apply for a driving licence, or secure housing or employment.

 

WINDRUSH DAY

Windrush day has been celebrated since 2018 on 22nd of July.

This year, £500,000 was granted by the government to be distributed across councils and charities to fund projects such as educational events and exhibitions, helping to celebrate the contribution of the Windrush Generation and their descendants who have changed Britain for the better. 

TO WATCH 

I'm part of Windrush and am returning to Jamaica after 50 years.  

Paulette Wilson sadly passed away on July 23rd 2020.

She was a British immigrant who arrived in Britain in 1968 aged 10. She fought her own deportation to Jamaica after a letter from the British government classified her as an illegal immigrant.

Before her passing, she featured in a documentary about her experiences and took an emotional visit to Jamacia for the first time in 50 years. 

She is described as being one of the ‘most selfless and bravest victims of the Windrush scandal. Click above to watch the documentary. 

“The UK and Caribbean are entwined because the British empire enslaved black Africans and brought them there in shackles on slave ships. Lives are being ruined because we don’t remember our history.”

- David Lammy.

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