The Windrush Fiasco

22 June 2023 will mark the 75th anniversary of The Windrush; a ship that brought hundreds of migrants or Immigrants as they used to be called to the UK. Windrush Day has become a key symbolic moment in the story of the Black British contribution to this country and the broader post-war migration from across the Commonwealth and beyond that helped create the modern multi-racial Britain that we have today.

Windrush Day was introduced by the government in 2018 to remind communities about the contributions made by those from the Windrush generation and their descendants. However, it is viewed by some as a cynical attempt to distract us from the massive injustices endured by that generation and their descendants…. and that somehow having a day of celebration will diminish the hurt caused.

I visited Congo Square in New Orleans some years ago and it is an open space within Louis Armstrong Park in the Tremé neighborhood. In 1817 enslaved peoples were restricted from gathering in significant numbers for obvious reasons. However, on Sundays they were given permission to gather to sing and dance and sell goods. This was a good tactic as it made the slaves appreciate the time to enjoy themselves without worrying about their condition. Now, of course, I am not suggesting that “Windrush Day” is the same thing, but I guess you know where I am going with this.

Sometimes we are silenced by not knowing the truth and sometimes by choosing not to know the truth. Sometimes we are pacified by gifts and tokens or seduced by some meaningless recognition in a cynical attempt to distract us from a greater awareness of our condition and to remind us of how grateful we should be, but subsequent evidence have clearly shown is that the more we comply the more our experiences are belittled.

However, we must consider the timing of this! The hostile environment was a system encouraged by the government as a response to the so called “Immigration Problem”. This is where Employers, Landlords, NHS staff and other public servants had to check immigration status before offering a job, housing, healthcare, and other support and this impacted seriously on those from the Windrush Generation who had assumed that they were British and had the right to stay and work in this country. The Home Secretary at the time is quoted as saying “The aim is to create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants". This rhetoric is continued by the present Prime minister whose family’s presence was a consequence of slightly less vitriolic immigration processes, as bad as they were.

Many people from the Caribbean came with their children on their passports and some of those “children” missed the opportunity to secure citizenship and fell foul of the draconian immigration rules. They began to lose their access to housing, healthcare, bank accounts and driving licenses. Many were placed in immigration detention centres, prevented from travelling abroad and threatened with forcible removal, while others were deported to countries they hadn’t seen since they were children.  Despite the Government’s acknowledgment of the scandal and the damage done, the Windrush Compensation scheme is a failure and is complex to navigate. There is a lack of free legal advice, claims take months to process, and compensation offers are insultingly small. Furthermore, there is little encouragement for potential applicants to apply without exposing themselves to further risk.

We have no illusions about the Government position but there is little excuse for local authorities not to provide support and advice for its own citizens some of who are Windrush migrants. Labour controlled Southampton City Council refused to provide the necessary support and ironically it was a Conservative MP who made any effort to respond to concerns; despite their part in its creation……at the end of the day political complexions seem to be irrelevant.

The review commissioned by the government and undertaken by Wendy Williams, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, made 30 recommendations. An announcement was due to be made, revealing that 28 of the 30 recommendations are being formally “closed”, and the government is planning to abandon several of the key commitments made in the wake of the Windrush scandal, all of this is happening as the UK government prepares to implement hard-line promises to fast-track the detention and removal of migrants. Removals to Rwanda is just one example of the “hostile environment”.

…..But let us not be ungrateful….We have been given Windrush Day which is a good thing. However, why not use that day as an opportunity not only to sing and dance but to protest and to highlight some of the areas where the Windrush Generation and their descendants are less than happy about their condition and circumstances. As usual funding for Windrush Day is controlled by the Home Office and the only success Southampton had went to a White organisation who proceeded to organise a street party with more singing and dancing! The Government are clearly adamant that any applications have no political references and for a paltry £750 000 for the whole country we are supposed to pretend there isn’t a problem….and scramble around in competition with each other for the crumbs on the table and further contribute to this shabby public relations fiasco to try to distract us from the scandalous history and the continuing victimisation of Black peoples.

The Windrush fund should be more than the government choosing for us what we should remember and what we should forget….more than the government telling us what we should celebrate and what we should ignore and should be more about what we have achieved and what we have sacrificed and what has not been recognised.

Don John