LEICESTER, United Kingdom – The Windrush Generation were too often “failed by the state,” according to Bishop Paul McAleenan, the head of the migrants and refugees desk at the England and Wales bishops’ conference.
A ship arrived in the English port of Tilbury 72 years ago carrying more than 800 Caribbean immigrants to the country, the beginning of a new phase of immigration which changed the UK’s demographic landscape.
The ship was called the HMT Empire Windrush, and its June 22, 1948 arrival gave a name to the large number of immigrants that came to Britain from its then-colonies in the West Indies.
“The story of the Windrush Generation is one of people coming to the UK, settling and building their lives here and making an enormous contribution to society; yet all too often these same people were failed by the state, as the scandal of the detention and deportation of innocent people made tragically clear. Many of those harmed still await redress from government,” said McAleenan.
He was referring to the “Windrush Scandal.” In 2016, the government began a new program to deport people who could not prove they were in the country legally, which threatened the estimated 60,000 Commonwealth immigrants from before 1971. Many suddenly couldn’t get public benefits, were dismissed from their jobs, and even told by the government they were going to be deported.
Those immigrants had been granted “indefinite leave to remain,” which roughly corresponds to having a U.S. green card. However, many of these immigrants were never given any official paperwork, and those who came as children usually arrived on their parents’ passports. In 2010, the “landing cards” – which the immigrants filled in when they first arrived in the country – were destroyed, leaving no records of their entry into the country.
The scandal led to the resignation of Amber Rudd, the minister in charge of immigration, and an apology from the government. In 2018, the government said every June 22 would be officially commemorated as Windrush Day.
This year’s commemoration comes as the United Kingdom grapples with issues of race highlighted by the Black Lives Matter protests that have taken place across the globe since the May 25 killing of an unarmed George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
“Racial justice depends upon many things, including learning from our history,” McAleenan said.
“This Windrush Day we should unite in prayer and reflection, with a shared commitment to properly recognize the profound importance and value of the UK’s migrant and ethnic minority communities, never allowing their human dignity to be violated,” the bishop continued.
Home Secretary Priti Patel on Monday launched the Windrush Cross-Government Working Group, which she said would address the challenges faced by the Windrush generation and their descendants.
“This group is crucial to delivering on our promise to right the wrongs experienced by the Windrush generation and it is right that we advance these issues in a constructive, sensitive and responsible way,” she said.
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