It’s hard to believe we are living in a country that indefinitely detains its own citizens, deports them, or refuses them cancer treatment even when they’ve lived here all of their adult lives. Yet under this government we have seen this happen to the Windrush generation. These were people that came to help rebuild this country after the war, and this is how the Tories treated them.
The government can’t or won’t say how many were bullied and threatened into becoming a so-called ‘voluntary removal’, and in August a Guardian report revealed that dozens of Windrush citizens wrongly targeted by the government over their immigration status are still waiting for their cases to be resolved.
This is one of the worst scandals surrounding our citizens and immigration in my lifetime, and Labour demands every aspect of it is put right – as shown by our conference motion this week demanding justice on Windrush. The motion “demands the government resolve the outstanding cases now”, adding: “Commonwealth citizens who came here before 1973 are British citizens. They and their relatives should not have been detained, deported, denied re-entry to this country, lost their homes, jobs and livelihoods.”
Ministers never tire of confusing the appalling treatment of the Windrush Generation with illegal migration. Yet the whole point about the Windrush scandal was that our citizens, here perfectly legally, were treated as if they were here illegally. Putting this right means treating the entire cohort of the Windrush generation as they should be treated – as British citizens. All the wrongful deportees and detainees need to be identified and so do all those unlawfully prevented from re-entering country plus all those who were bullied or threatened into ‘voluntary removal’.
Everyone who lost a job, or lost a home, and all those denied bank accounts and drivers’ licenses need to be identified. They will all need to be compensated and in many cases they need hardship payments now – something the government is still denying them. But whilst securing justice for the victims of the Windrush scandal must be an essential priority, we also need to look at why it happened to prevent it from ever happening again.
This means honestly assessing how false rhetoric on protecting our borders and immigration led directly to the Windrush scandal. This scandal did not fall from the sky: it was a product of government policy. The most important factor is that official policy, ministerial rhetoric and media coverage fails to treat migrants as people.
In terms of government policy, it’s important to remember that the whole Tory party and the Lib Dems voted for the 2014 Immigration Act and implemented their ‘hostile environment’. As part of this, we had Theresa May as Home Secretary with her ‘Go Home’ vans and announcing that she would ‘deport first, appeal later’.
As Home Secretary, May prided herself on developing policies that have resulted in British citizens who arrived as part of the Windrush generation losing their homes, jobs and livelihoods. The government is responsible for Windrush, and whilst related problems go back decades, with the Windrush scandal a fresh, cruel, malign twist has been added to long-running injustice.
The new Home Secretary Sajid Javid wants to distance himself from some of the worst aspects of the Windrush scandal and has been trying to evade responsibility. In fact, he himself is guilty of a great injustice in refusing a hardship fund for those who have lost jobs, lost homes, or been denied bank accounts or driver’s licenses.
He is refusing to act despite the real hardship people are facing right now, and he is doing it for the most insensitive and bureaucratic of reasons. This is a chapter of the scandal of his own making that he could and should end now. Whilst the Home Secretary claims to have ended the ”hostile environment”, this is simply untrue and he recently sneaked out an announcement showing they were still treating the Windrush generation as second class citizens-
Labour conference was clear this week: we will not rest until there is justice for the Windrush generation. We have committed to scrapping of the Immigration Act of 2014, which enshrined Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ into law.
Labour has not only exposed these cruel policies of the Windrush scandal, but has also outlined the steps that a Labour government will take to end these outrages. As the Tories meet next week, they should finally commit to justice for the victims of the Windrush generation scandal. If not, they should make for a government that will.
Diane Abbott is shadow home secretary and MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.