Windrush scandal: Everything you need to know about the major political crisis

Windrush Day marks the scandal that saw hundreds of Caribbean immigrants working and living in the UK wrongly targeted by immigration enforcement

Olivia Petter
Tuesday 31 May 2022 11:09 BST

The Windrush Scandal saw hundreds of Caribbean immigrants living and working in the UK wrongly targeted by immigration enforcement as a result of the government’s “hostile environment” policies.

As a result, many elderly people were suddenly being barred from working, refused access to government services, and lost access to welfare benefits.

In some cases, they were even detained and deported.

Some of the most notable cases included a man who had worked and paid taxes for more than 30 years and was charged £54,000 for cancer treatment and a woman who had been living in Britain for five decades and was thrown into a detention centre.

Wednesday 22 June marks the fifth national Windrush Day, which was established to honour the British Caribbean community and the Windrush generation.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Windrush scandal.

Who are the Windrush generation?

​The Windrush generation were a group of Caribbean immigrants who arrived on British shores between 1948 and 1973.

The name comes from the Empire Windrush ship that was the first ship to bring these immigrants to the UK on 22 June 1948. The ship was carrying 1,027 people.

The immigrants, who were from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and other islands, were brought to the UK to help fill post-war labour shortages.

(Sitting in Limbo/BBC One (Sitting in Limbo/BBC One)

When did the scandal begin?

The problem first came to light in April 2018 at a meeting at the Jamaican High Commission in London that saw politicians, diplomats and campaigners demand that ministers provide an immediate remedy for a “developing situation” in which, due to changes in the immigration system, Caribbean immigrants were being deemed “illegal immigrants”.

This meant that elderly Caribbean immigrants were being denied access to NHS healthcare, losing their jobs and even being threatened with deportation.

Why did it happen?

Of around 550,000 people from the Caribbean who migrated to the UK between 1948 and 1973, roughly 50,000 who were still in the UK may not had yet regularised their residency status, according to information from the Migration Observatory at Oxford University.

Hence, because of a “hostile environment” towards immigration as spearheaded by Theresa May when she was home secretary, the government viewed them as “illegal immigrants” and they were stripped on many of their rights as UK citizens unless they could prove they were UK nationals with relevant documentation.

But most people arrived on parents’ passports and never applied for travel documents.

What were some of the worst cases?

One highly publicised case was that of Albert Thompson, who had lived in London for 44 years after having arrived from Jamaica as a teenager. Mr Thompson went for his first radiotherapy session for prostate cancer only to be told that unless he could produce a British passport he would be charged £54,000 for the treatment.

Sitting in Limbo (BBC)

Despite having worked as a mechanic and paid taxes for more than three decades, Mr Thompson’s free healthcare was denied and he was evicted, leading him to be homeless for three weeks.

In another case, Michael Braithwaite, who arrived in Britain from Barbados in 1961, lost his job as a special needs teaching assistant after his employers ruled that he was an illegal immigrant.

Another case was that of Paulette Wilson, who had been in Britain for 50 years when she received a letter informing her that she was an illegal immigrant and was going to be removed and sent back to Jamaica. Ms Wilson had left Jamaica when she was 10 years old and not returned since.

The government said that more than 160 members of the Windrush generation may have been wrongly detained or deported. But more than 1,270 claims have been made to a compensation scheme.

What was the impact?

The then-home secretary Amber Rudd resigned as the scandal unfolded. She had claimed the Home Office had no deportation targets, but less than 24 hours later admitted that some immigration officers did use targets for the number of people they should deport.

Ms Rudd resigned days later, admitting she had “inadvertently misled” MPs.

An independent review into the scandal has since found there was a “profound institutional failure” that wrongly stripped migrants of their rights, and the current home secretary Priti Patel said “on behalf of this and successive governments I am truly sorry for the actions that span decades”.

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