The Windrush Tragedy: A Story of an Abandoned Generation of Immigrants
By. Jon Sproule
Immigration has always been a complicated subject to approach. Despite the diverse facets associated with it (such as what makes immigration legal versus illegal), it is important to recognize that it is legal through policies and procedures in order to grant immigrants civil rights and federal services in their new home. However, there are still examples of how immigrants experience injustice from the very governments that legally allowed them into the country. The case of the Windrush Scandal is one of these examples. It is a tragedy for legal immigrants; of how a country backstabbed the very people they invited.
In 1948, the United Kingdom’s parliament passed the British Nationality Act, allowing people born in English colonies to emigrate to the United Kingdom. This act was passed in an effort to make up for labor shortages the UK was facing following the Second World War. Between 1948 and 1970, nearly half a million immigrants of various ages made their way to the UK from Caribbean countries. They became familiarly known as “the Windrush Generation”, named after the first ferry to carry them across the Atlantic.
Other challenges presented themselves from government and everyday life. There were numerous debates in Parliament whether the first boat would even be allowed to dock. Additionally, there was heavy competition for jobs and living space, instigating riots and assaults by white populations against the immigrants. Even British officials offered little aid to the Windrush Generation in completing their assimilation into British citizenship.
The acceptance of the Windrush Generation in British society was shaky from the start. The Act permitted immigrants to legally enter the country without documentation, but weren't given any documents upon entry, which would later be the reasoning behind future government actions on deportation. Despite this oversight, many immigrants quickly became productive and essential members of British society, entering the workforce and sending their children to British schools.
The next few decades saw little progress in immigration policies. The most notable Acts were passed in 1971 and 1999, which gave commonwealth immigrants indefinite leave to stay as well as protecting them from enforced removal. Later incidents proved that these policies made no clear effect on the Windrush Generation’s well being until it was too late. In addition, these acts were also matched with more antagonistic ones.
In 2012, then Home Secretary Teresa May oversaw the implementation of new rules targeting immigrants, forcing many beneficiaries of the 1948 Act to leave the UK voluntarily. Policies enforcing the need for identification became more abundant, despite the government’s unwillingness to assist immigrants in fulfilling these requirements after decades of undocumented free movement. Immigrants, some of whom had been residing in the UK for more than 50 years, faced deportation and even banishment from their adopted country, and others were denied essential services for similar reasons. As more cases of unjust actions against the Windrush Generation appeared, it finally became obvious that the failure to provide documentation for legal citizenship was the fault of the government.
Following the publicization of recent incidents, members of the government have acknowledged the Windrush Scandal. Multiple officials, such as Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes have gone on record stating that these deportations were “errors” that needed to be “put right”. Home Secretary Amber Rudd went so far as to resign after publicly apologizing for the malicious policies. To correct this, the Home Office established a task force with the challenge of investigating immigration cases. Without proper documentation, officials were forced to ask for whatever information they could get their hands on, including but not limited to school records, bills, certificates, and work papers. The British Government has also updated their website to make support for these migrants more accessible. What amount of Windrushers have access to these services is difficult to say.
Although there has been progress in integrating the Windrush Generation, there are still problems, even today. The year of 2018 saw 49 documented incidents regarding illegal deportation and denial of services. Following the government’s apology, Windrush immigrants such as Junior Green found himself barred from entering the UK to attend the funeral of a family member, despite obtaining citizenship in 1958. His testimony, along with three others can be read here. Another concern is that the fallout from Brexit not only threatens other Windrush citizens, but other EU immigrants as well. The question remains if they share the same future.
The story of the Windrush Generation will be remembered in history as an example of how immigration policies can affect subsequent generations as well as current ones. The future is always unsteady but hopefully there will be improvements that provide a safe and just place for all citizens, immigrant or otherwise.
BBC Newsnight, and Hulton Archive. “Tearful Man 'Barred from His Mum's Funeral' and 3 More Tragic Windrush Stories.” Mirror Online, Web Archive, 18 Apr. 2018, web.archive.org/web/20180423004302/www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/tearful-windrush-migrant-barred-mums-12382956.
Cousins, Emily. “The Notting Hill Riots (1958).” Welcome to Blackpast, Blackpast, 30 Jan. 2020, www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/notting-hill-riots-1958/.
Government Digital Service. “Windrush Scheme: Prove Your Right to Be in the UK.” GOV.UK, GOV.UK, 30 Sept. 2019, www.gov.uk/windrush-prove-your-right-to-be-in-the-uk.
Stenhouse, Ann. “What Is the Windrush Scandal - and How the Windrush Generation Got Their Name.” Mirror Online, Web Archive, 1 May 2018, web.archive.org/web/20180502023219/www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/what-windrush-scandal-how-windrush-12383743.
“Windrush Generation: Theresa May Apologises to Caribbean Leaders.” BBC News, BBC, 17 Apr. 2018, www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-43792411.