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Windrush claimants fear being ‘forgotten’ by government amid Afghanistan crisis

Windrush victims are still waiting for compensation

Nadine White
Saturday 04 September 2021 00:55 BST
“The British government has to learn to do the right thing across the board and be more welcoming.”
“The British government has to learn to do the right thing across the board and be more welcoming.” (PA)

Windrush campaigners have expressed concern about compensation claimants being “left at the back of the queue” amid the Afghanistan crisis, The Independent has been told.

Britain’s pledge to aid thousands fleeing persecution has been warmly applauded, yet hundreds affected by the Home Office scandal have yet to receive pay-outs as the process continues to be hampered by delays and deferrals.

Only 412 of the 2,367 claims submitted had received a final award despite the process being open for two years, according to a report by the Public Accounts Committee published in July.

Last month, attendees at the monthly Windrush National Organisation meeting were surprised to be told that the de-facto head of the Windrush Compensation Scheme, Tom Greig, has been moved onto the Afghan Resettlement Programme while someone temporarily covers his post.

Campaigning group Windrush Lives told The Independent that the Home Office has the resources to deal with both of these issues - if only it were “operating sensibly and in good faith”

“The Home Office should focus on getting Afghan refugees to the UK and granting status to them - and to Windrush victims who are still waiting - with speed,” spokesperson Ramya Jaidev said.

“According to the Institute for Government, the Home Office is one of the largest government departments, with nearly 40,000 staff. We were therefore surprised that Tom Greig was moved onto the Afghan Resettlement Programme. It took months for this person to become familiar with the problems victims were facing with the compensation scheme; now we’re back at square one with a new official.

“This is a smokescreen - the Home Office has never intended to compensate Windrush victims, many of whom are still impoverished and living in appalling conditions, quickly and fairly; it takes every opportunity it can to shelve this responsibility, because it fundamentally does not care about the Black and brown people who make up the Windrush cohort. There is no urgency because in the Home Office’s eyes, these people don’t matter - politically, they are not part of the demographics to which the Home Secretary panders when issuing press releases boasting about the number of people she has successfully deported.”

“Windrush victims are all too familiar with the and inhumane treatment Afghan refugees are now facing” (Screenshot)

Through Operation Warm Welcome, the Home Office has made a number of pledges to help refugees from Afghanistan including appointing Victoria Atkins as new Minister for Afghan Resettlement and offering indefinite leave to remain status to at least 8,000 Afghan staff and family members who were deployed locally to help Britain under Her Majesty’s Government.

However, the Government had not decided whether the 5,000 Afghans who will be helped to come to the UK under the separate resettlement scheme over the next year will get indefinite leave to remain and has meanwhile said refugees fleeing Taliban rule in Afghanistan will not be resettled in the UK if they come across the English Channel in small boats.

Both points have led equalities campaigners to question the extent to which Britain is truly committed to helping Afghans in need.

“Windrush victims are all too familiar with the and inhumane treatment Afghan refugees are now facing,” Ms Jaidev added.

“The Home Office’s statements that it is doing everything it can for Afghan refugees, while simultaneously insisting they must wait in an imaginary queue to enter the UK by a lawful route - which doesn’t exist - recalls successive Home Secretaries’ public statements that government is doing everything it can for Windrush victims, while demanding their parents’ birth certificates and statements from companies that interviewed but didn’t hire them in order to grant compensation.

“It is absolutely right that refugees are admitted as quickly as possible; however, this shouldn’t be used as an excuse to halt work on Windrush status and compensation.”

The Independent has spoken with several people affected by the Windrush scandal, including Glenda Caesar and Carl Nwazota, who echo these worries.

“It’s right that the British Government are stepping up to their responsibilities but they must not neglect their duties to the Windrush generation,” said Desmond Jaddoo (Supplied)

Meanwhile, a number of Windrush claimants remain concerned about their plight being ignored by the Government under a disingenuous guise that it is simply too busy attending to pressing matters of the day, Bishop Desmond Jaddoo told The Independent while, he says, the hostile environment continues and yet more victims of the scandal fear coming forward to regularise their status for fear of being persecuted by the Government.

“I can’t negate these worries,” he added.

“It’s right that the British Government are stepping up to their responsibilities but they must not neglect their duties to the Windrush generation.

This country has a track record of not standing up to their responsibilities and, as far as I’m concerned, the jury is out on how they’re dealing with Afghanistan because Britain has been known to let people down while taking what they can get, making relationships to advance themselves through the Commonwealth, for example, but not when it comes to standing up and being counted.

“The British government has to learn to do the right thing across the board and be more welcoming.”

Some campaigners have noted legitimate differences between the Home Office’s response to the Aghanistan crisis, while the world watches, and the Windrush scandal.

For example, recommendation 9 of Wendy Williams’ Lessons Learned Review suggests the introduction of a Migrants’ Commissioner to represent the unheard voices of migrants including the predominantly-Black Windrush cohort. This has yet to be actioned though Ms Atkins was appointed to a new role overseeing Afghan resettlement within a matter of days.

“There needs to be an immigration amnesty” (PA)

Others have pointed to the lack of vetting processes in place for refugees coming from Aghanistan while the UK prospects of Windrush families have been blighted due to criminal records in argued breach of the ‘good character requirement’.

Patrick Vernon, social commentator and Windrush campaigner, told The Independent: “It seems that when acts of aggression take place Hong Kongese, Chinese or Afghans get indefinite leave to stay irrespective of past criminal records but there is a different standard when it comes to the Windrush Generation.

“You can conclude there is no serious intent to right the wrongs or have a compensation scheme that’s fit for purpose. Anti-Blackness is still at the heart of the Home Office.”

Campaigner Euen Herbert-Small has called for an immigration amnesty to redress this imbalance.

“While I sympathise with Afghan refugees and acknowledge our Government’s responsibility to those fleeing persecution, many other nationalities have to live in the UK without status for up to 20 years and then put on a path to citizenship, on 10-year routes after finally acquiring ‘limited’ leave to remain,” he told The Independent.

“Members of the Windrush generation have lived in the UK for up to 50 years without documentation and some still remain in the shadows for fear of persecution by the Home Office, there needs to be an immigration amnesty.

“On the other hand, thousands of Afghan refugees - who happened to have previously helped the UK Government - are being promised Indefinite Leave to Remain as a blanket policy with a clear path to citizenship after 12 months of coming to the UK with Indefinite Leave to Remain settled status. Many nationalities including members of the Windrush generations, former British subjects and their descendants, have been in the immigration backlogs for decades.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: "During this crisis, it is right that the Home Office is playing a leading role in the international effort to support vulnerable Afghans, and it is wrong to suggest that work is impacting the support we are providing to all those affected by the Windrush scandal.

“To date, we have supported more than 13,000 to get documentation confirming their status or British citizenship through the Windrush Scheme and have paid out £27 million through the Windrush Compensation Scheme, whilst a further £7.1 million has been offered.”

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