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‘I’m still at a loss’: Windrush victims who were forced into homelessness and debt due to scandal still living in anguish and destitution a year on

Twelve months after the government apologised for the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ policy on immigration, those hit by the scandal are still suffering

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 16 April 2019 17:50 BST
Why is the Home Office getting so many immigration decisions wrong?

On 16 April 2018, Amber Rudd – then home secretary – stood up in the House of Commons to formally acknowledge the Windrush scandal for the first time. The treatment of immigrants by her department’s “hostile environment” was appalling, she said, vowing to deal with cases within two weeks and put things right.

But exactly one year later, the suffering goes on. Many are yet to receive a response to their application to the taskforce, leaving them in a “state of limbo” with little or no information about how their case is progressing.

Others who were made homeless or forced into large debts after being wrongly targeted by officials are still waiting for financial help to put their lives back together.

Edward Bromfield, who came to Britain from Jamaica in 1972, was told by the Home Office he was not entitled to be in the UK. That meant he couldn’t work or access benefits, leading to his eviction from his north London home. With nowhere else to go, the 63-year-old had to move into a friend’s shed.

After his MP, David Lammy, assisted him in applying under the Windrush taskforce, Mr Bromfield had his immigration status resolved and was given a council flat – but he has no money to buy basic furniture.

“It’s not furnished. It’s very bare – no carpet, no curtains. I lost all my things when the bailiffs came to evict me,” says Mr Bromfield. “I’m having to rely on friends for a bit of food and things like that. I’m trying to find work but it’s hard because once you’re over 60, with warehouse work, they don’t want you. I’m grateful for what Mr Lammy has done, but I need some support to get my life together again.”

Mr Broomfield applied for the Windrush hardship fund, which was set up in December, at the start of the year. But four months on, he still hasn’t heard anything, despite a deadline of 10 working days.

Less than two weeks after Ms Rudd made her speech to the Commons, she resigned for “inadvertently misleading” MPs. While she told them that there were no targets for removals of illegal immigrants, it was revealed that she had written to the prime minister setting out an “ambitious but deliverable” aim of increasing deportations by 10 per cent.

Her replacement Sajid Javid pledged to “do right” by the Windrush generation. But the revelations over the Home Office’s mishandling of the crisis have continued. Though many of those affected came to Britain from the Caribbean, people from across the Commonwealth have been hit by the policy – including India, Ghana and Pakistan.

Though about 2,500 people have been given documentation confirming their status, the slow response by the government has brought repeated criticism. As well as taking eight months to set up the hardship scheme, ministers did not announce a compensation scheme until just two weeks ago. Its launch was hit by a breach of data protection as the Home Office sent out details in a way that meant Windrush migrants could see each other’s email addresses.

Euten Lindsay: ‘They don’t seem to realise that people’s lives have been ruined’ (Euten Lindsay)

Jamaican national Euten Lindsay says his life “fell apart” when he was forced to close his catering business in 2013 after the government claimed he was an illegal immigrant despite having lived in the UK for 40 years. He was granted UK status by the Windrush taskforce, but says he is now “at a loss” as he has received no financial support five months after applying for the hardship scheme. The 55-year-old fell into £20,000 of rent arrears and was £2,000 behind on his water bills. Unable to pay for dental treatment, he lost four teeth.

“It was so stressful. I was unable to even clothe myself, unable to maintain a home with proper heating and bedding,” he says. “Britain is my home, my county. For me to actually be able to play my part in my community, I need assistance and I need the government to rectify the wrongs that they’ve caused.”

The 55-year-old applied for the hardship fund in December and was initially told it had been refused on the grounds that he was self-employed, but after contacting the Home Office to query the decision, he was told he could reapply. He did so in January, but is still waiting for a response.

“They want you to just walk away. But I decided sorry, I’m not that kind of person. The debts I’ve incurred I should not have incurred. I am fighting for my right and also for the rights of others. If we all give in and throw the towel in we’ve lost,” he says. “They don’t seem to realise that people’s lives have been ruined.”

Lindsay had to close down his catering business in 2013 (Euten Lindsay)

Grace, 61, a Nigerian national who didn’t want to use her full name, is one of those still waiting for their initial Windrush applications to be processed. The grandmother, whose mother, daughter and grandchildren all live in the UK, applied in November, and has received no response since.

“I’m feeling anxious. I don’t know why it’s taking so long. What are they looking for? What other information do they require? I’ve given them photographs of my youth, my holy communion, my secondary school testimonial. It looks like they’re digging deeper, but they aren’t telling me,” she says.

“They don’t give me a timeframe. The first time I called in November said it would probably take four to six weeks – eight weeks at the most. That gave me hope. But I’m neither here nor there. I don’t have the funds, I don’t have a place that is mine. I’m drifting. I’m placing a burden on people.”

The Home Office said ministers were determined to “right the wrongs experienced by the Windrush generation”, but some applications to the taskforce and hardship fund took longer due to their complexity.

Immigration lawyer Jacqueline McKenzie says she regularly comes across Windrush victims who had been waiting more than six months – and in one case over 10 months – for their cases to be resolved, and that “too few” applications for the hardship fund had been processed.

She added that she was also “very concerned” about whether the Home Office was doing enough to reach people affected by the scandal and those affected had been treated with “utter contempt”.

“There has been no major promotional campaign or effective outreach into communities targeted, at people who might be affected, and the Home Office has shunned working with community groups and organisations working with those affected,” says Ms McKenzie.

Amnesty yesterday called for fundamental reforms of the immigration system, including the citizenship fees that make a profit for the Home Office but many applicants struggle to afford. Steve Valdez-Symonds, from the charity, said: “A year on, this scandal is far from over. Its causes remain to be fully recognised, let alone addressed.”

In the meantime, for Edward Bromfield, Euten Lindsay and Grace – not to mention many other Windrush victims – the pain goes on.

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