Windrush Day reminds us we must stand in solidarity with Black people
Today is National Windrush Day, which was established to celebrate the contribution and legacy of the Windrush generation here in Britain and it honours the wider British Caribbean community too, and their immense and enduring contribution to the UK’s social good and their integral place in the British family.
The name Windrush Generation derives from the ship MV Empire Windrush, which set sail from with 492 Jamaican people, who docked in Tilbury Essex on June 22, 1948.
These Commonwealth citizens were invited by the British Government to come to the UK to help rebuild Britain, who were facing a labour shortage following the devastation of World War II.
Other ships followed between 1948-1971.
These invitees came from Caribbean countries such as Jamaica, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Many came from British colonies that had not attained independence, and understood that they were British citizens and more so because of the British Nationality Act 1971 which made them, they understood, citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies.
The 1971 Immigration Act gave to Commonwealth Citizens and their spouses and children, who were already in the UK up to 1973, indefinite leave to remain too.
It remains unclear how many people belong to the Windrush generation, since many of those who arrived as children travelled on their parents’ passports and never applied for travel documents - but they are thought to be numbered in their thousands.- according to estimates by Oxford University’s Migration Observatory.
The Home Office failed to maintain a record of those granted leave to remain and neither did they issue any paperwork confirming it, resulting in problems for the Windrush Generation and their UK status.
Adding to this, the landing cards belonging to Windrush’ migrants’ were shockingly destroyed by the British Government’s Home Office in 2010.
With the onset and escalation of the Governments changes to immigration law in 2012, people were required to produce documentation to work, rent a property or access benefits, including healthcare.
This Hostile Environment policy, made life very difficult for the Windrush Generation, meaning that without proper ID checks, people could not access the NHS, sign contracts with landlords, or banks, or be
employed – even though they were British citizens.
Then in 2013, people from the Windrush Generation received letters telling them they had no right to be in the UK, which subsequently meant people lost their jobs, their homes and access to the NHS, while others were placed in immigration detention or deported, although they had lived in Britain for many decades even paying taxes and insurance.
It was demanded of them that they must prove they were living in the UK legally, despite them being so and in order to prove this they were instructed to provide one document from each year they had been in Britain.
I can tell you from my own personal experience of advocating for these people that this was nigh on impossible for them, as they had arrived as babes in arms, toddlers or small children, with their parents decades before and what records that had existed proving their entitlement of being here, had been destroyed by the British Government in 2010.
Challenges to Government to cease and desist began and increased including from the earliest of days, from us in Equalities and Human Rights here in Sheffield, with 140 MPs later on down the line, joining in the challenge to urge the Government to change their policy – a U-turn ensued.
Promises of restitution for the extensive harm, stress and suffering caused to these Black members of the British citizenry was issued but to date only 36 people have received compensation under the Windrush Compensation Scheme.
Some people are left destitute and others have sadly died.
National Windrush Day should not have to be a day, when we in Equalities and Human Rights are obliged to condemn the still prevailing failings of Government and their continuing maltreatment of the Windrush Generation but it remains our duty to do so, until such time that the Government redresses its wrongs as described above.
The Windrush Generation came to the aid of Britain. They came invited. They came as educated, proud people to the motherland, only to be subjected to racism.
They and their children made their lives here, contributing to the social good and the rebuilding of Britain.
The ill-treatment of these Black members of the British family provides further evidence of why there is a requirement to give focused and dedicated attention to why the Black Lives Matter campaign is essential because in the pursuit of the government’s Hostile Environment and in the reneging of their promises to the Windrush Generation, we have standing proof, which aligns to a myriad of other examples here in the UK, of Black Lives Not Mattering to Government and evidence of pure systemic racism being at the core of how Black people are seen, valued and treated.
We in Equalities and Human Rights here in Sheffield and nationally, pay homage to the Windrush Generation and to all those of African Caribbean ethnicity at this time of commemoration and thank them and those that have gone before them for their many contributions to Sheffield and Britain over the years.
We recognise, what Black people have gone through and are going through now and we stand firmly in solidarity with them.
People feeling aggrieved at the use of the term Black Lives Matter, have need to reflect on the above and to take on board that All Lives Will Matter When Black Lives Matter here in the UK and Globally too.
Chrissy Meleady is director of Equalities and Human Rights UK, Aizlewood's Mill, Nursery Street, Sheffield.