Editorial – Windrush: A moment for listening

The Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) today released their eagerly-awaited report on the Windrush Generation and its treatment by the Home Office. Many have already reacted at the report’s unflinching condemnation of Home Office practices. “Major reforms needed,” reads a headline on the Parliament’s own website.

It is very positive to see that the scandal exposed by the treatment of Windrush-era citizens is connected to a deep-rooted culture and systemic practices within the Home Office. The HASC report’s conclusions includes the following recommendation:

We recognise that immigration caseworkers have a challenging job and face making difficult decisions on a daily basis. There is no doubt, however, that a change in culture in the Home Office over recent years, as a consequence of political decisions and political leadership, has led to an environment in which applicants are automatically treated with suspicion and scepticism and have been forced to follow processes that appear designed to set them up to fail.

With a new Immigration Bill looming over the horizon, here we have a call for deep soul-searching and serious institutional reform in immigration enforcement. The question, obviously, is will the government listen?

Last week, the Joint Committee on Human Right’s own report on Windrush (specifically, on the detention of Windrush-era citizens such as Paulette Wilson) did not mince its words. After finding that “the rights of a whole category of people with a legal right to be in the country were overlooked by Home Office officials,” the report’s authors conclude:

The Home Office does not appear to have acted like an organisation that had discovered it had made serious mistakes. When an organisation comes across a serious mistake, they take steps to address it—by identifying the staff involved, arranging extra training, extra supervision, or even disciplinary action. Yet the Home Office has not reported taking any action in respect of any of the individuals who played a part in wrongly depriving these two people of their liberty. Other than one senior civil servant being moved out of the Home Office to the Cabinet Office, there have been no reports of staffing changes or disciplinary action against staff at the Home Office.

In our view this suggests that in these cases the Home Office has an inadequate regard for the human rights of those who might wrongly be subject to their immigration procedures and that there is neither sufficient internal or external challenge to prevent the system depriving individuals of the fundamental right not to be detained.

Both reports together describe the Home Office as closed to scrutiny and accountability. The HASC report on Windrush makes unambiguous demands for more transparency, including on enforcement targets. It calls for additional measures to ensure a properly independent “lessons learned” review, and for an “unredacted” version of the Home Office’s guidance for its new Windrush taskforce to be circulated publicly for public scrutiny and comment.

For public scrutiny to take place and to be meaningful, migrant organisations have to be properly listened to. This lack of listening is exactly what brought about the Windrush debacle. It is not unusual (to put it euphemistically) in the migration sector to hear that government consultations are a waste of time, as no one will listen. There is still a long way to go.

In fact, the latest consultation on the Windrush compensation scheme was wholly inadequate. MRN expressed concern that the consultation was far too short and problematic for individuals to engage with. We have written again today to the Home Office asking them to respond to our concerns about the structure of the consultation.

Much to be done both to support those affected and to make sure that the catastrophic catalogue of Home Office and governmental failures is not allowed to continue or destroy the lives of existing and new migrants. The Home Office has recently talked a lot about trust, but trust begins with open, transparent and timely communication. The failure of the Home Office to respond, and its insistence to continue offering clouded thinking on the issue, help absolutely no one…

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