On the 21st June 1948 HMT Empire Windrush docked in Port Tilbury. It was carrying West Indian migrants who had travelled to the UK at the request of the British government to fill gaps in the depleted labour force. In the last seventy years, the passengers of Windrush, and the many that have followed, have integrated into British society, providing much needed workers after the Second World War and helping to shape the multicultural Britain we live in today.
The Windrush scandal hit the headlines in April 2018 but had been bubbling under the surface for years. It is important to remember this problem has not come out of nowhere. Since the story broke, Amber Rudd has resigned as Home Secretary, largely due to the fact she got caught up in her own lies rather than her handling of Windrush cases, an enquiry has been launched into the mishandling of cases, and mistakes, such as the wrongful deportation of 164 people, have been admitted to by the government.
But can we now look back at the scandal and think of any positive learning curves that can be taken from it? And has justice been given to the British citizens who lost their jobs, their access to health care and their livelihood due to the incompetence of Whitehall? The answer is probably no.
As the chaos that is Brexit dominates headlines, the Windrush scandal and the people who have been affected by it seem to be fading from discourse. Whilst we wave our moral flags at the US after it emerged families were being separated at the Mexican border, similar stories have been happening here and have gone largely unreported. Grandmothers who have raised two generations of British citizens have been held in migrant detention centres with no guarantee of legal aid or any idea of a release date. People have been denied vital healthcare as they could not produce documents to prove their residency, documents which were never given to them in the first place.
These are the sort of cases that still need to be making headlines and causing outrage until the Windrush Generation get the compensation they deserve. The proposed cap on compensation shows that the government has still not grasped the disruption they have caused to people’s lives due to mismanagement and their dehumanising policy of a “hostile environment”. This is an issue that does not just include Caribbean migrants. The success of Whitehall’s aims, championed by Theresa May, the Home Secretary at the time, in creating a “hostile environment” for migrants to meet immigration targets can be seen in treatment of migrants from across the world, most especially the EU.
If the Tories had acted quicker and stronger in compensating the Windrush Generation and admitting to their own catastrophic mistakes, the Windrush Scandal could have been a turning point in trying to create a more integrated society where everyone feels valued. Instead, they have been too slow in providing the right financial and psychological aid to those affected.
With this in mind, it is as important as ever to highlight the ongoing problems that those who arrived by request of the British government 70 years ago still face. Pressure needs to be maintained and stories be brought back into the spotlight to ensure justice is served to the Windrush Generation and their families.