Windrush Day: A generation's continued fight for justice

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Paul Davies

Monday 22 June marks the third Windrush Day, the 72nd anniversary of the SS Empire Windrush arriving at Tilbury Docks in Essex carrying the first Caribbean migrants.

Many of those who left sunnier climes were ex-servicemen who fought with the UK in the Second World War and had been invited to a bomb-damaged Britain to fill labour shortages.

Windrush Day was established as a celebration to honour the enormous contribution those who made that journey - and others who followed from elsewhere - have made to Britain.

The annual event was established in 2018 in the wake the Windrush scandal when many of those invited to Britain suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of immigration laws that, unbeknown to them, had changed around them.

Two years on from the inaugural Windrush Day, their fight for justice continues.

Ex-troopship HMT 'Empire Windrush'. Credit: PA

Who are the Windrush generation?

HMT Windrush brought the first post-war migrants from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean islands, then British colonies, to the UK in 1948.

There were just over 1,000 passengers on board that first sailing.

Over a 23-year period, an estimated half a million people made the 8,000 mile journey from Caribbean islands, encouraged to the UK to help rebuild a Britain battered by war.

Many arrived as children, travelling on their parents’ passports and with no documents of their own.

Few intended to stay for long.

But many did settle in the UK, establishing communities, raising families, paying taxes, even serving in the British armed forces - contributing to what the 1940s adverts had referred to as ‘the Mother country’ economically, socially and culturally.

Then, decades later, many found themselves unable to prove they had the right to work, or in some cases even live, in the country they had called home for 50 years.

Campaigners continue to seek justice for Windrush generation victims. Credit: PA

What was the Windrush Scandal?

Adult Windrush immigrants from the 1960s and early 1970s were usually given permanent right to reside stamps when they arrived on UK shores.

The 1971 Immigration Act confirmed that the Windrush generation had, and have, the right to live in the UK.

But they were not given any documents to demonstrate their status and the Home Office did not keep a record of those granted leave to remain.

In the decades since the Windrush generation had arrived in Britain, immigration law had changed as successive governments sought to get tough on border control, culminating in then-Home Secretary Theresa May’s hostile environment policy that began in 2012.

Immigration law in the UK now require people to have documentation to work, rent a property or access benefits and NHS services, which left many of this generation in a perilous situation.

People with a right to live in the UK found themselves with no papers and no rights.

As a result, some lost their jobs, their homes, and, according to a report into the scandal published earlier this year, “their sense of identity and wellbeing”.

The Home Office said 164 people were wrongfully detained or deported from the country that had been their home for decades.

In her independent report from March, Windrush Lessons Learned Review, Wendy Williams said they were “failed when they needed help most”.

Ms Williams told ITV News: "I've made the point that the Windrush scandal was both foreseeable and avoidable."

Ms Williams said: "I've set out clearly why that was and the reason why it was, was because there were warning signs both internally and externally that were drawn to the Home Office's attention so what I say is, is absolutely important for the department to learn the lessons of Windrush."

"I've set out what needs to happen in order for that to occur and everyone is watching, everyone is waiting, and everyone is looking to the Home Office, that's both ministers and officials to lead that charge."

Guests leave after the service of thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey, London to mark the 70th anniversary of Windrush. Credit: PA

What happened next?

As the scandal broke, the government was forced to act. Amber Rudd, the then Home Secretary, resigned in the wake of it.

The Windrush Lessons Learned Review was ordered and a compensation scheme launched in July 2018 at an estimated cost of at least £200 million.

In March, Home Secretary Priti Patel told the House of Commons more than 11,700 people have been given “some form of documentation”, since 2018.

Ms Williams' March report found the Windrush Scandal was “foreseeable and avoidable” with victims let down by “systemic operational failings” at the Home Office.

“They had no reason to doubt their status, or that they belonged in the UK,” she wrote.

Is the compensation scheme working?

There has been concern among support groups working with those affected by the scandal about the slowness of compensation offers and the difficulties of the claiming.

Official figures published last month revealed fewer than 5% of claims made under the compensation scheme for victims have been paid out.

The most recent figures show Home Office has paid out £362,996 to just 60 people.

Some 1,275 claims were made by the end of March, with the number received by the department decreasing each quarter since it launched.

Black Lives Matter campaigners in Windrush Square, Brixton, June 2020. Credit: PA

Why has there been little uptake?

Campaigners say those affected are not applying because they are not getting the support they need to navigate a bureaucratic legal system.

Paul Nichols, 76, came to the UK in 1962, serving in the British army until he was demobbed in 1971.

Despite making the odd trip to Barbados, being on the electoral roll and even applying to be a councillor, when Mr Nichols applied for a student loan in 2017, he discovered that as far as the Home Office was concerned "he didn’t exist".

It took Mr Nichols nearly a year to receive his papers despite the army having a record of his time serving.

He told ITV News it was - and continues to be - “unbelievably traumatic”.

“It was an experience I wouldn’t wish on anybody. It was unbelievable. To say it was hostile would be an understatement. I couldn’t believe the Home Office could do that,” he said.

“Imagine, you made a vow to put your life on the line (for the army) and then are told ‘we didn’t even know you were here’”.

Mr Nichols has yet to apply for compensation, citing the legal bureaucracy as a barrier to making a claim.

“It’s a dehumanising process,” he says, pointing out that those entitled to claim are the victims of the system that they are still trying to battle.

Campaigners delivering a petition to Downing Street on Friday 19 June. Credit: PA

He told ITV News: “In this particular instance, you’re not dealing with someone who broke a statute law, you didn’t do anything wrong. You are the victim, not the perpetrator.

“It’s like you’re trying to defend something that really and truly is not your fault."

Mr Nichols said he has not been offered any support to make his claim, a situation replicated across many of those affected as campaigners fight to help them access the compensation they are entitled to.

On Friday, Windrush campaigners delivered a petition to Downing Street signed by more than 130,000 people, calling for action to address failings which led to the scandal and for swift compensation payments.

The Home Office has acknowledged “more needed to be done” regarding the compensations scheme and said it was working with community leaders “so that all those affected can get the compensation they deserve, as quickly as possible”.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The Home Secretary has been clear that the mistreatment of the Windrush generation by successive governments was completely unacceptable and she will right those wrongs.

“Wendy Williams recommended that the Home Office should reflect carefully on the review before responding and we are committed to honouring that request. The Home Secretary has also committed to provide an update to Parliament before summer recess.”