IIt should be a week of sheer celebration, to mark the contributions to British life of people from the Caribbean. Seventy-five years after HMT Empire Windrush docked in Essex, their descendants and community have much to be proud of. Interviewed before Thursday’s anniversary, Alford Gardner, one of the few remaining survivors of the hundreds who boarded the ship in the Caribbean in 1948, said he “wouldn’t change a thing” about his life. Having served with the RAF in the second world war, he left Jamaica at the age of 22, married in Leeds and had eight children.
Because 75 is a special anniversary – the National Health Service will reach the same milestone next month – and thanks to dedicated funding for projects celebrating the Windrush generation, there will be a number of commemorative events this year. – heat. One of these, in Wolverhampton, will explore the histories of the health service and the Caribbean migrants who worked in it. But National Windrush Day, as 22 June has been officially known since 2018, is a day of mixed emotions for many of the people whose life stories have been identified with it. The joy of being the center of attention, and the fact that immigration was once celebrated, was mixed with the bitterness of what it took to get this date on the national calendar.
That was the revelation of the Home Office fault known by shorthand as the “Windrush scandal”, although many of those affected came to the UK from Commonwealth countries not the Caribbean. Beginning in 2017, this newspaper revealed that thousands of people who arrived as children were denied access to healthcare or other rights, because they could not verify their immigration status. After the introduction of a “hostile environment” policy in 2012, which required public authorities, including employers, to run checks, more than 160 individuals were fired or placed in detention. In April 2018 the then home secretary, Amber Rudd, resigned after revealing the existence of numerical deportation targets.
Five years ago, the government did not follow through on the commitments made after the shameful events. Only eight of the 30 recommendations of the independent review of Wendy Williams were fully implemented, while the compensation procedure was plagued by delays and needs for documentation (the lack of which caused the problems in the first place). The home secretary, Suella Braverman, scrapped plans to strengthen independent oversight of immigration processes. This week it emerged that the unit set up to manage the changes was disbanded.
Immigration is part of Britain’s past and must be remembered. Earlier this year a home was found in the City of London for the Migration Museum, marking the end of a 10-year search. The Windrush is one of the most widely recognized symbols of its history, and the celebrations of its arrival should be taken advantage of. But it’s no wonder they carry what some describe as a sour taste. The laws and processes governing immigration in the UK are deteriorating, and past mistakes have yet to be rectified. Many more were discovered. A BBC investigation showing that around 400 people were sent home from UK hospitals between the 1950s and 1970s raises troubling questions about consent. The past is another country, but the unfair and racist treatment of migrants continues.