A Windrush campaigner has reflected on the “injustice and humiliation” of being deemed an illegal immigrant in the country he called home for more than 50 years.
Michael Braithwaite, who arrived from Barbados as a child in 1961, lost his job as a special needs teaching assistant for not having an up-to-date identity document two years ago.
The 68-year-old married father-of-three, who has six grandchildren and lives in north London, said the ordeal of “being told I was nobody” still causes him great mental anguish.
Mr Braithwaite also dismissed the Government’s “token” attempts and “lame excuses” to remedy the scandal and criticised the compensation scheme for victims of the affair.
Monday marks 72 years since the Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks on June 22 1948 carrying some 500 people from Jamaica.
The official human rights watchdog is launching legal action to review the Home Office’s “hostile environment” policy which led to the Windrush scandal.
It resulted in thousands of Commonwealth immigrants – who came to Britain in the decades following the Second World War – being wrongly denied rights, losing their jobs and in some cases being deported to places they barely knew.
Mr Braithwaite told the PA news agency: “I think about the sense of injustice and humiliation, the don’t-care-attitude about people who came here to build this country.
“I look at it and think we’ve not moved on… families are still struggling.
“We’re still not recognised for what we’ve done and we’re still in debt and we still have bills to pay.
“They’re not recognising it as something that is powerful, has made this country what it is. The tokens they give us are not an apology just a ‘sorry’.
“For me, saying sorry is a lame excuse. Windrush day is just another lure to make us feel good for the time.
“To take my freedom away the way they did … it makes me very emotional when I think about that day when I was told I was nobody.
“I was not recognised as part of where I live, the work I’ve done, my journey was taken away.”
Campaigners including Mr Braithwaite handed in a petition to Downing Street last week signed by more than 130,000 people calling for action to address failings which led to the scandal.
Describing the attitudes of Home Office staff towards the plight of people who have lived and worked in Britain for decades, Mr Braithwaite said: “It’s ‘don’t look at the person, look at the figures and look at the numbers. Don’t read their history, we don’t want to know about them, if they haven’t got this, off you go’.
“This is not the British way as far as I am concerned.”
He also criticised the compensation scheme for victims of the scandal, describing an arduous process requiring lots of “silly little documentation” that has long since been lost.
He added: “I might be dead before I get any compensation that I’m due. But compensation is a crucial deal, people are still having to think about the rent, living off charities.”
Official figures published last month showed fewer than 5% of claims made have been paid out.
Mr Braithwaite, who has since obtained a biometric residence card, added: “We’re not fighting, we’re begging nowadays. We got angry, did things right, and it’s still a journey we have to keep going on with.
“My mental state is still not the same, I’m still trying to put myself back together.
“I’ll never be the same again. If I don’t have my routine I fall back into that mental state of mind where thing are not right with me or my head or my health.”
A report published in March found the Windrush scandal was “foreseeable and avoidable” with victims let down by “systemic operational failings” at the Home Office.
The department demonstrated “institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness” towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation, the review found.
A Home Office spokesperson said:
We are determined to right the wrongs experienced by the Windrush generation. That is why we established the Windrush Compensation Scheme, which has been carefully designed with independent oversight so that it is as easy to use as possible.