More than 140 British MPs signed a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May asking her to resolve the immigration status of those long-time British residents born in Commonwealth territories, who have been recently misidentified as “illegal immigrants,” facing several legal problems and even deportation.
The letter was written by David Lammy, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community, and signed by MPs from all parties including Labour Party's Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott and several conservative MPs.
It asks May for “an immediate and effective response to the growing crisis facing British residents who arrived in Britain from the countries of the Commonwealth prior to 1973... now in their 60s or 70s having lived, worked and raised families in this country over the last five or six decades... hardworking people who helped to shape modern Britain and contributed hugely to so many aspects of life in this country.”
“It’s disgraceful that the rights of the Windrush Generation have been brought into question by this government and that some have been wrongfully deported,” Corbyn said.
The immigrants are named after the Empire Windrush, one of the first ships to bring Caribbean migrants to Britain in 1948, when Commonwealth citizens were invited to fill labor shortages and help rebuild the economy after World War Two.
Almost half a million people left their homes in the West Indies to live in Britain between 1948 and 1970, according to Britain’s National Archives. They were later granted indefinite permits to remain in the country under the 1971 Immigration Act.
But the Home Office did not keep a record of those granted leave to remain or issue any paperwork confirming it, meaning it is difficult for the individuals to now prove they are in Britain legally. May's changes in the legal immigration system, aimed at stopping overstaying, are affecting the Windrush Generation.
British media have reported several cases such as a man who was denied treatment for cancer, and a special needs teaching assistant who lost his job after being accused of being illegal immigrants despite living in Britain for more than 40 years.
Intensifying the row, junior home office minister Caroline Nokes admitted Monday that some people may have been deported in error.
Lammy said the people affected by this situation were “too scared and anxious to seek to clarify their own status for fear they will be stripped of their status or deported back to a country that they have no memory of and is certainly not their home. Their home is here.”
“These individuals and their families were born as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies or as Citizens of the Commonwealth and enjoyed the right to enter and remain in the United Kingdom, just as those born in Britain enjoyed and exercised their right to move to the farthest reaches of the Commonwealth,” reads the open letter.
Penny Mordaunt, the conservative international development secretary, said the Home Office needed to change the way it's dealing with the affected Windrush generation people.
“My advice to anyone who finds themselves in these circumstances is to contact your local MP … that is what we are there for. People should not be concerned about this. They have the right to stay and we should be reassuring them of that,” Mordaunt said during an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today show. She also demanded respect to their right to health care access and legal employment.
“I am hoping No 10 will look at the schedule for Prime Minister May and if they find any opening they will give priority to Caribbean heads,” Guy Hewitt, the high commissioner for Barbados, told Today.
The British government will hold the annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London on April 19 and 20. The British government last week refused a request from the high commissioners of 12 Caribbean nations for a dedicated meeting on the subject of the immigrants at the Commonwealth meeting this week.
May only became aware of a request for a meeting Monday morning, and will discuss the issue with counterparts from Caribbean nations this week, her spokesman said. A Home Office official said the rejection was issued because the subject of the meeting was not clear.