On Tuesday, as soon as parliament returned from summer recess, I asked the Home Secretary an Urgent Question on the government’s Windrush policy. The need for this question was prompted by a number of new horrors thrown up by the Windrush scandal over recent weeks.
We have had the bizarre sight of the Home Secretary making an apology to just 18 of the victims identified who have been wrongly detained or wrongly deported, despite the fact that the government has itself identified 164 victims. It is certainly the case that a sincere apology is long overdue, but it is also unclear why the others have not received apologies and why those apologies are not immediately forthcoming.Specifically and shamefully, we’ve learnt that three citizens have died in Jamaica after being wrongfully deported from this country. And we didn’t learn about this from our own government, but from the Foreign Minister for Jamaica, Kamina Johnson-Smith. It is not known how many other victims of the Windrush scandal, many of whom are now elderly, may also currently be at risk.
In their response to my urgent question, the government wholly failed to lay out whether or how it will do what is urgently necessary in light of these shocking developments. The government must explain the basis for the limited scope of this apology, why other victims are not being afforded the same courtesy, what steps have been taken to investigate these cases and to ensure that further such cases can be prevented.
Furthermore, we don’t know whether the apology included any commitment to provide immediate help for hardship. These people may have to wait for the compensation scheme – although no date has yet been set and even the consultation period will not end until October.
It has also been admitted by the government that British citizens, fully legally entitled to be here, have been treated as if they were here illegally. They have been wrongly detained or deported. The Secretary of State has been unable to answer basic questions such as how many people this has affected, whether there are still new victims being created, and how many people have wrongly been refused re-entry or lost jobs or homes as a result of government policy.
We have learnt from other recent newspaper reports that the government is losing the majority of its appeals in immigration cases. The government is still trying to deport thousands of people who are entitled to be here – this is of course part of the same process that led to the Windrush scandal in the first instance, and the government continues to deport people entitled to be here.
The Windrush scandal is a product of the government’s hostile environment policy. This was based on treating people as if they were illegal immigrants, and shifting the burden of proof of to them to prove otherwise. Specifically, when it came to the Windrush scandal, many elderly victims have been unable to produce that documentation.
It is clear then that this scandal and the continuing horrors that are being revealed as part of it are entirely due to the Tory hostile environment. This policy – of which Theresa May has been the chief advocate – is supported by the entire government, including the Home Secretary whose attempts to rebrand the policy as ‘compliant environment’ are a nothing more than a sham.
It’s time for the government to end the hostile environment for good. Unless and until they do, the reek of the Windrush scandal will forever be associated with this rotten government.
Millions of people, here in Britain, in the Commonwealth and around the world, have been appalled at the treatment of the Windrush victims, and yet the Windrush scandal continues to rumble on. The Secretary of State has now had ample time to address all the issues arising from it. Yet we continue to receive partial admissions and limited disclosure.
Again and again, the government has failed the entire Windrush generation. The Conservatives have been extraordinarily lax in carrying out their repeated verbal commitments to find out who are the victims of this scandal and what will be done to correct it.
The reality is that the government has failed in its duty to protect its own citizens, failed to properly examine how it created this scandal and continues to fail to address properly and openly the effects of that scandal. It is clear that the Tories simply cannot be trusted. We must keep up the pressure for justice for the victims of the Windrush Scandal, and argue for a real change of direction to a fair immigration policy.
Diane Abbott is Shadow Home Secretary and MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.