Windrush Day - 22 June 2020:
so where are we now?

22 June 2020

On 22 June, people will come together to celebrate what has now been called, “Windrush Day”. The day is being marked with celebrations around the country, which may well be a challenge given social distancing. However, as a quick reminder, this day is to mark the injustice and scandal that many people faced, predominantly from the Caribbean who, after being in the UK for more than 50 years were asked to leave the country.

Some 83 people were wrongly deported to Jamaica even though they hadn’t travelled to the country for many years and certainly didn’t see it as home. They arrived in the UK in the 1950s in response to a call to help Britain rebuild the country after the war. Many became nurses, bus drivers and conductors, all of which were roles that white British people didn’t want to do. In 2017, it transpired that many who had been living in the UK for years were asked to leave due to a mistake by the UK government. The immigration laws in the UK changed and you were required to prove you had the right to live and work here. If you wanted to rent a property, open a bank account you were required to produce a document, usually a passport which confirmed you were British. Many from the Windrush generation didn’t have British passports, some simply because they had never travelled and therefore, never felt the need to apply for a passport. When they did apply for a British passport, it transpired that the proof they required had been destroyed by the UK immigration services and therefore they had no means of proving when they had arrived in the UK. As they couldn’t prove their right to be here, many were put into detention centres and even deported.  It was a human tragedy and ironically even Theresa May at the time as prime minister admitted the government had made a mistake. The irony continued because she was home secretary at the time and had helped coin the phrase “hostile environment” and created the laws which lead to the mistake in the first place!

OK, let’s not dwell on the past wrongs and try to look to the future. So, they say, but it seems incredibly difficult to not hark on about the past when, to this day, the national newspapers, particularly the Guardian, continue to report that many people who were promised the compensation by the government have not received a penny. I read Amelia Gentleman’s article in the Guardian and shortly before the Sitting in Limbo programme was aired on BBC1, Anthony Bryrant was offered compensation. Is that how it’s always going to be? Remembering the wrongs that people of colour have gone through only for people in power to simply “say” they will compensate and then don’t actually do it? We, people of colour, can’t rely on such empty promises. We need to focus on us and what’s important to us. We can and should not rely on anyone else to save us.  

So, today we see the whole world literally rally, marching and coming out for people of colour. Talking about Black Lives Matter, which is encouraging, but is it really? Are we actually saying that our lives didn’t matter before? That’s how I feel when I read that the people who suffered so badly through the Windrush scandal still haven’t received the promised compensation! It leaves us feeling that we don’t matter, perhaps we never have and never will! You can go back years and never get what we deserve or are entitled to.

So, for me, it’s simple. Allies, yes please we need you as we have tried everything else and nothing has worked, so the only solution is getting non-BAME people on side, who will speak up for us. OK, let’s try that. I hope it works, as I have very little faith in anything else. What is it we want from the outcome of the Black Lives Matter movement? Can you imagine that all I want is to be treated fairly and judged on merit and not on the colour of my skin? I can't bear the thought of still writing about this in another few years' time. Allies: we need you, like you need us. This is the time to take action. Please do it.

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About the author

Marcia Longdon is a Partner in the immigration team and a member of Kingsley Napley’s Diversity & Inclusion Group.


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