by RITA CHADHA
We all thought Windrush was a moment in British immigration history that would not be forgotten. In the last weeks we have seen its legacy degraded by heartless immigration bureaucracy, with many people’s agony prolonged – for years, as we know – by the usual ministerial evasion of awkward questions.
We need to hold the government accountable by demanding practical action in light of what has happened. The compensations announced just recently are welcome, although it remains to be seen how individuals will be compensated for being made to live in fear, exile or destitution.
The initial shock is starting to fade, but we still need a systematic review of who has been impacted by Home Office decisions to detain and deport Windrush-generation residents. This also means research at local level, documenting the cases of Caribbean residents who have lost access to employment and housing due to their unclear immigration status. It is incumbent on every local authority to find out how many Commonwealth citizens, starting with those currently receiving support under care duties, have been unjustly made precarious. Next, we can ask for information from different public institutions. How many commonwealth citizens have lost the right to work in the NHS, for example, because of their perceived lack of citizenship?
The government should present the information in a cohesive and transparent way, with all available data accessible to the public and the media.
We at MRN hope that the scandal spells the end for the hostile environment, and we are hugely thankful to partners like JCWI and Liberty – not to mention the journalists who have been doggedly calling us for exemplar stories – for making sure the momentum keeps going and the government is held to account.
As we scramble to unearth more and more examples of migrant lives devastated by immigration enforcement obsessions, however, we should probably also get ready for an organised backlash.
It seems that the current government can eat a whole lot of humble pie without ever admitting it was wrong. We predict a slow trickle of counter-narrative news stories, strategically placed by the Home Office’s ever ‘creative’ Communications Team, that will focus on all that they have got “right” on immigration. Granted, that could be very short… but it could include things like amplifying stories about foreign national offenders who have been deported (worth noting the AIRE Centre is currently challenging aspects of this under the premise of Operation Nexus), or even stories about cuddly grandmas coming off planes and saying that they viewed their forced exile as a nice holiday. Already, we are seeing news pieces about how grateful Windrush-generation residents are to receive citizenship – a convenient way to make us forget that they were technically always citizens, and only retrospectively turned into migrants.
Brace yourself, in other words, for a renewed campaign of fear and foreboding. Shadow Women and Equalities secretary Dawn Butler notes that the Windrush scandal is a symptom of institutional racism. What we have is indeed institutionalised hostility, a state-sanctioned programme for the marginalisation of people based on the country they came from (whether they remember this country or not, or were even born in the UK!), as well, in far too many cases, as the colour of their skin.
To end the hostile environment, we will eventually need to look beyond the moving stories of “good immigrants” done wrong. We must continue to target the policies themselves, highlighting the rights they violate for all migrants, even as they enable all sorts of discriminations.