By Charlotte Alt
The Windrush scandal has been at the forefront of political debate for two weeks now. Theresa May rejected a formal diplomatic request extended by representatives of twelve Caribbean countries to discuss immigration problems of the Windrush generation, culminating with the resignation of Amber Rudd. This issue increasingly called in to question the government’s competence in immigration policy establishment and enforcement.
The Windrush generation refers to the thousands of immigrants (primarily from the Caribbean) who arrived in Britain between 1948-1972, encouraged by the British government to reduce labour shortages in rebuilding Britain after World War II. After Caribbean independence, the Windrush generation in Britain were accepted as legal immigrants. The government, however, failed to extend necessary paperwork proving their immigration status. Although arguably governmental incompetence to treat migrants fairly already started here, they could work, access NHS services and rent property, despite being unable to prove their legal status.
In 2012 however, Theresa May, then Home Secretary, adopted an immigrant policy aiming “to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration.” This meant that immigrants must now prove their immigration status when renting property, opening bank accounts, or accessing state services. It was part of an effort to reduce immigration by the thousands and has been reflective of the government’s attitudes towards immigration since.
This 2012 policy negatively affected the Windrush-generation, a great number of whom suddenly found themselves branded ‘illegal immigrants’, out of work, unable to rent property, and subjected to forced emigration. The Guardian started writing about such cases six months ago, yet the government remained blissfully ignorant and uncaring. Only in the last ten days has Home Secretary Amber Rudd responded to the ensuing scandal, and ultimately resigned her post due to it. She apologised for “any confusion or anxiety felt,” vowing to grant UK citizenship, having conceded Windrush migrants were in Britain legally and should not have been put through such an ordeal. The question, however, remains why they did have to experience this; was it governmental incompetence or callous immigration policies?
Rudd apologised for her ignorance towards the issue saying she should have recognised the problem sooner. Although naturally, mistakes happen, this was certainly avoidable. The government, in desperately trying to decrease immigration numbers, failed to consider small-scale or long-term effects. In alienating all but the British from living in their country, they clearly lost sight of possible consequences, which shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Adding to the unnecessary ignorance is an uneasy sense of callousness shown by Rudd in admitting that British immigration policy had become too concerned with “strategy and sometimes loses sight of the individual,” or May’s rejection to hold a meeting concerning issues of the Windrush-generation.
Since 2012, immigration policies have been unconsidered and ineffective, pointing to a larger incompetence of the government on the issue. With more consideration, understanding, and compassion, this ordeal could have been avoided for the estimated 50,000 Commonwealth-born people currently living in the UK without the paperwork to prove their legality.
Photograph: UK in Holy See via Flickr