Amber Rudd yesterday admitted members of the ‘Windrush generation’ may have been kicked out of Britain by mistake.
The Home Secretary conceded she did not know whether Caribbean migrants who came here in good faith after the Second World War had been wrongly removed.
In farcical scenes, ministers at first appeared to admit some had been ‘horrendously’ kicked out, then insisted they hadn’t, and then said that they didn’t know.
Miss Rudd faced a call to resign and was summoned to the Commons to apologise for the fiasco. Labour’s David Lammy told fellow MPs it was a ‘day of national shame’.
Amber Rudd yesterday admitted members of the ‘Windrush generation’ may have been kicked out of Britain by mistake
Answering questions from furious MPs in the Commons, Ms Rudd offered an apology for the way cases had been handled
Campaigners insisted that at least one person had already been wrongly sent back to Jamaica. It emerged at the weekend that Government officials had refused to meet Caribbean envoys to discuss the cases of those who came from the late 1940s to the 1970s to help rebuild post-war Britain.
Despite living here for decades, many have now mistakenly been told they are illegals under a Home Office crackdown on immigration paperwork. Some have lost their right to work, rent property, receive pensions, access bank accounts and have NHS care. Others have been told they risk detention and deportation.
The row turned toxic yesterday when immigration minister Caroline Nokes suggested there had been deportations. As ministers were branded ‘inhumane and cruel’:
– Miss Rudd said the Home Office was ‘too concerned with policy and strategy, and sometimes lost sight of the individual’;
– Commonwealth countries will be contacted to check whether anyone had been wrongly removed;
– A taskforce will speed up the regularisation of immigration status for tens of thousands of citizens;
– Cases will be resolved in two weeks and the £229 fee will be waived;
– Theresa May performed a U-turn by agreeing to meet Caribbean leaders who have been raising concerns;
– A cross-party group of 140 MPs wrote to the Prime Minister demanding ‘immediate and effective’ action.
Miss Nokes made her comments in an interview with Channel 4 News. She said: ‘Potentially they have been deported and I’m conscious that it’s very much in error and that’s an error I want to put right.’
Then she told ITV News that some people had been booted out of the UK ‘horrendously’, adding: ‘I don’t know the numbers, but what I am determined to do going forward is to say we will have no more of this.’
In the aftermath of her interviews, officials insisted no one had been deported in the immigration crackdown.
But then in the Commons, Miss Rudd said she was not aware of any cases but was investigating and conceded some members of the ‘Windrush generation’ may have been wrongly sent back to the Caribbean.
She added: ‘That is why I have asked the high commissioners if they know of any, that they should bring it to me.’
Last night, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said at least one person had wrongly been sent back to Jamaica. Satbir Singh, who is the charity’s chief executive, said: ‘It is true, but it is very difficult to know how many people have been removed. What’s shocking is that the Government admits that it has no record of the numbers.’
Downing Street said Mrs May wanted to ensure that ‘no one with the right to be here will be made to leave’.
Pictured: The SS Empire Windrush which brought the first generation of workers to Britain from the West Indies in 1948
Barbados high commissioner Guy Hewitt told the BBC: ‘Because they came from colonies which were not independent, they thought they were British subjects. And 40, 50 years on are being told by the Home Office that they are illegal immigrants. Some have been detained, are still being detained. Others have been deported.’
Mr Lammy told Miss Rudd: ‘This is a day of national shame and it has come about because of a hostile environment policy that was begun under her Prime Minister.’ He later tweeted: ‘I am disgusted by the Home Secretary’s response. She says she is worried that the Home Office is too concerned with policy and not concerned enough about individuals. Guess what, you’re in charge of the Home Office. You should be considering your position because of this.’
Tory MP Nigel Evans said he was ‘sickened’ by the treatment of Windrush citizens and called on the Home Secretary to carry out an ‘urgent review’ of cases where it was possible an individual had been deported.
Labour MP Lucy Powell said the Home Office was ‘going after soft targets’ rather than genuine illegal immigrants.
The new Home Office taskforce, with 20 personnel, will help individuals identify and gather evidence to confirm their right to be in the UK. It will work with HM Revenue & Customs, Department for Work and Pensions, Department of Health and Department for Education and other bodies for relevant paperwork.
Fees for sorting out the paperwork of those affected will be waived. Cases will be dealt with in two weeks once evidence is gathered.
The Migration Observatory at Oxford University estimates there are 500,000 people resident in the UK who were born in a Commonwealth country and arrived before 1971.
People born in Jamaica and other Caribbean countries are thought to be more affected than those from other Commonwealth nations, as they were more likely to arrive on their parent’s passports without their own ID documents.
Many have never applied for a passport in their own name or had their immigration status formalised, as they regarded themselves as British.
A Home Office spokesman said last night: ‘We are not aware of any specific cases of a person being removed from the UK in these circumstances and we have absolutely no intention of asking anyone to leave who has the right to remain here.’
Theresa May, pictured with Prince Harry at the Commonwealth summit in London today, has U-turned and will now meet Caribbean leaders to discuss the treatment of Windrush immigrants
Windrush fiasco brings call for Rudd to get a grip on the Home Office…and the PM is ‘furious’
Amber Rudd faced a barrage of criticism from her own party yesterday over her handling of the Windrush debacle.
Downing Street, Cabinet ministers and MPs all made clear their anger at her failure to deal with a problem the Home Office has been aware of for weeks.
The Home Secretary was publicly backed by Tory MPs in Parliament after she was hauled to the Commons to answer questions over the treatment of Caribbean residents who came here after the Second World War.
But behind the scenes fellow Tories were scathing about her lack of grip on the Home Office.
One Whitehall source said the Prime Minister was ‘furious’ about the fiasco, which threatens to overshadow this week’s Commonwealth summit in London: ‘People have been raising this with the Home Office for weeks, only to be told it was all in hand.
‘The Commonwealth summit was supposed to be a showcase – now it’s going to be all about a completely avoidable row.’
A second insider said: ‘To say there is irritation is an understatement. It’s another self-inflicted wound from the Home Office. We kept being told it was all under control – well it doesn’t look very under control from here.’
In a highly unusual move, Miss Rudd’s fellow Cabinet minister, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, went public with criticism of the Home Office’s mismanagement. Writing on Twitter, he said: ‘I’m deeply concerned to hear about difficulties some of the Windrush generation are facing with their immigration status.
‘This should not happen to people who have been longstanding pillars of our community.’
Seeking to offer reassurance, he added: ‘The Government is looking into this urgently.’
In another significant intervention, the former Conservative leader Michael Howard – also a former home secretary – made public his dismay.
The peer expressed his ‘concern and bewilderment’ over the issue and the ‘confusion and anxiety’ it had caused those involved. Condemning a ‘lamentable state of affairs’ he demanded to know how the citizenship debacle had been allowed to happen.
In the House of Lords, he asked the Government spokesman: ‘Can he shed any light on the circumstances in which the confusion and anxiety has been allowed to arise in the first place?’
Yesterday morning, leading Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg said the treatment of Caribbean residents was a ‘deep disgrace’ and ‘shameful’. He told LBC: ‘It’s absolutely dreadful – these people are as British as you and I are and it’s really extraordinary that the Home Office is coming out with this ghastly bureaucratic guff saying that they’ve got to show that they’re British.
‘Nobody’s asking us to prove that we’re British when we go and use public services.
‘I think it’s a deep disgrace and it should be top priority of the Government to sort it out. It’s such a bad way of treating people and it puts bureaucratic rules ahead of people’s lives and I think it’s shameful.’
The fiasco heaped pressure on Miss Rudd, who has come under fire in recent weeks over her handling of the spike in violent crime. One ministerial source said Windrush was ‘yet another Rudd blunder’. Another said the Home Secretary was ‘all over the place’ on the issue and a third called yesterday a ‘shambles’.
Last week Miss Rudd was criticised after she admitted not having seen a leaked document from her department which drew a link between cuts to police budgets and the spike in offending.
Following the chaos, bookmaker Coral slashed the odds on Miss Rudd being the next Cabinet minister to leave their post.
Before the Windrush crisis she was 33-1 to be sacked or resign, but those odds were cut to 6-1 after her statement to Parliament yesterday.
A Home Office source said: ‘Amber knows that this is about individuals – people who have built their lives here and contributed so much to our society.
‘There’s no question about their right to remain so she wants this sorted as quickly as possible, that’s why she’s put a team on this to help these people get the documentation they need and get it fast.’
The Prime Minister will today host a meeting of 12 leaders from West Indian countries affected by the scandal.
She is expected to pay public tribute to the Windrush generation, saying they are ‘part of our national life’.
The mother-of-five living in a terrace house in east London who was branded an illegal immigrant…after paying tax for 30 years
Sarah O’Connor, 57, of Dagenham, East London
Sarah O’Connor arrived in Britain from Jamaica in 1966 when she was just six years old. Like many of her generation, she’d been left in the care of her grandparents while her mother, young and unmarried, went to seek work in Britain.
After her mother married, settled in Wolverhampton and had three more children, they were finally reunited.
It would not be a happy ending and Sarah’s life turned out to be full of challenges. But she worked hard, embracing everything this country had to offer.
She married, had five children of her own and four grandchildren and, for the past 20 years, has lived happily in a neat end-of-terrace house in Dagenham, East London.
‘I’ve always thought of myself as British and I was very proud to be part of this country,’ Sarah, now 57, says. ‘Or I was.’
Last summer her world fell apart. In June, she lost her job as business sales assistant in a local computer shop where she’d worked for more than 16 years.
When she went to the Job Centre to sign on, she was told she wasn’t entitled to benefits. ‘I’m used to working. I’ve always worked,’ she says. ‘So when I was be told I wasn’t entitled to anything…’
The reason? Sarah did not have a valid British passport. As a Windrush immigrant, one of the 500,000 people who left the West Indies between 1948 and 1970 to come to Britain, she had always been entitled to a passport. She had just never got round to applying for one.
‘I had a driving licence and I’d paid tax and national insurance for over 30 years, but I’d never been out of the country. So I’d never really needed a passport.’
It took all her strength to make it out of the Job Centre without weeping. ‘When I got home, I broke down. To think, I’ve been here more than half a century. All my family – my kids, my grandkids are here. Just imagine – after 30-odd years of working, paying tax, national insurance, voting, everything – to be told you’re an illegal immigrant!’
Which, of course, she is not. Under the 1971 Immigration Act, all Commonwealth citizens already living in the UK were given indefinite permission to stay.
But the Home Office did not keep a record of those granted leave to remain or issue any paperwork confirming it, and the onus has always been on the individual to prove they are in Britain legally, rather than the other way round.
For many – including Sarah – it has been a difficult and often cripplingly expensive process.
Determined not to be beaten, Sarah started applying for jobs: ‘I didn’t care what I did, I just wanted to work.’
To her horror, she found that she was unemployable. While she sailed through interviews, every potential employer now needed to see a valid British passport.
‘They needed it to run checks to see I wasn’t a criminal,’ she says.
Sarah O’Connor arrived in Britain from Jamaica in 1966 when she was just six years old
After all she had overcome in her life, it was the bitterest of blows. When she flew to London on her Jamaican passport – an unaccompanied minor perched on a stewardess’s knee – it was to a family of strangers.
‘I’d come to a strange country to a mother I’d never known, new siblings and I spoke very little English. I kept running away for the next few months.’
She was terrified and felt like an imposter. Her stepfather used to beat her and ‘things didn’t work out’. Within months of arriving, Sarah was placed in care and stayed there until she was 18.
The experience would have broken many children, but not Sarah. She was determined to succeed.
‘I tried to get the best education I could, to better myself and make something of my life,’ she says. She studied hard and gained a series of qualifications in psychology and sociology.
‘Having been in care and knowing what kids went through, I wanted to put something back. I wanted to be a social worker and help people.’
But then she met Paul, fell in love and when she was 25 they had their first daughter, Stephanie, now 31. Despite the demands of motherhood, she always worked at whatever came her way, from cleaning or catering to her job in the computer shop.
She and Paul had split after 19 years, so when she found herself unemployed – and unemployable – her debts mounted quickly and she was forced to sell her car.
She couldn’t afford the £1,200 application fee for a naturalisation number – the precursor to applying for a British passport – and was haunted by the fear of deportation to a country she didn’t know. ‘Jamaica is the place I was born, but it’s not my home! I was scared of a knock at the door. It was terrifying.
‘I became very depressed and anxious. I could not sleep because suddenly I didn’t belong here.’
Despite – or perhaps because of – everything she’d been through, Sarah decided to fight for rights as a British citizen, with the help of her MP. The Home Office finally agreed to waive the £237 fee for a biometric card that gives her the right to work in the UK.
It will provide some security, but in her view adds insult to injury. ‘I wouldn’t have minded so much if I’d only just come here. But I’ve been here over half a century. This is my home, my country,’ she says.
‘Wouldn’t it have been simpler – and fairer – to have given me a passport? I love this country but something is fundamentally wrong for this to have happened. The immigration laws seem to be punishing people like me who worked for everything they have.’
Yesterday she was back at work, part-time, as a cleaner. ‘It’s only £294 a month. But I’d far rather be working and paying my way.’
Albert Thompson has been denied life- saving treatment on the NHS
Albert Thompson, who has been denied life saving treatment on the NHS
Albert Thompson, 63, has lived in London for 44 years – but told he must pay £54,000 for life saving treatment on the NHS.
For three decades Mr Thompson worked, supported a family, and was a head mechanic for a string of garages, and paid his taxes.
His mother arrived in the UK from Jamaica in the Sixties to come and work her as a nurse.
He had surgery for prostate cancer in January last year, before NHS eligibility rules were tightened, and was to begin radiotherapy at the Royal Marsden Hospital, London, last November.
But when he arrived for his first NHS radiotherapy session following the removal of his prostate, he was told he was not entitled to free treatment.
It is because the Home Office can find no record of Mr Thompson, who was born in Jamaica, in its files.
He lost the Caribbean passport he arrived in the UK with some years ago. And without a British passport – which he’s never had and cannot not get because there is no documentary proof of his arrival here as a teenager in 1973, landlords will not house him and the NHS have told his he can’t have treatment.
He said: ‘At present I’m left in limbo. It feels like I’ve been left to die because the job hasn’t been finished. I get depressed, stressed out, anxious.
‘I used to have a life, to work, to go out, enjoy myself. I had a nice car, a home. I went to the cinema, dancing. But that’s the past. I have to think about the present and it’s hard to come to terms with. I’ve got no money.
‘I’m very angry with the Government that I’m in this position. I’m here legally, but they’re asking me to prove I’m British.’
Mr Thompson worked until 2008 when he was diagnosed with the blood cancer lymphoma and an acute back problem; since then he has been too ill to work.
He was evicted from his rented flat because his landlord wanted to sell it. Tenants must now produce a British passport in order to rent accommodation. As Albert — not his real name — does not have a passport, he could not find a home.
‘I was on the streets for three weeks. I had to beg for food. I felt ashamed. I just asked people in shops if they had anything spare.’
After three weeks, Albert had managed to secure a room through a homeless charity, St Mungo’s. He still lives in that accommodation now.
Elwaldo Romeo has lived in Britain for 60 years – but told he is in UK illegally
Elwado Romeo has lived in the UK for nearly 60 years
Elwaldo Romeo has lived in Britain for almost 60 years, but has now been told by the Home Office that he is in the UK illegally.
He moved from Antigua to the UK when he was four, 59 years ago, and has lived and worked her ever since.
But he received a Home Office letter telling him he was ‘liable to be detained’ because he was a ‘person without leave.’
The letter continued: ‘You have NOT been given leave to enter the United Kingdom within the meaning of the Immigration Act 1971.’
He has been told to report fortnightly to Home Office premises. The letter also offered advice on ‘help and support on returning home voluntarily’.
Mr Romeo, 63, said: ‘It scares the living daylights out of you – the threatening language on the letters.
‘This is the country I’ve grown up in. I love it and it’s been very good to me over the years. But I’m devastated it has come to this. I feel like I’m being thrown aside.’
A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘We have been in touch with Mr Romeo to assure him that we are urgently reviewing his case and to help make sure that he is providing the correct information to demonstrate his status.’
Romeo said: ‘I’m not impressed with the way they are dealing with me and other people in my situation. People’s lives are on hold. They don’t take into consideration that I’ve been here since I was four.’
Michael Braithwaite’s employers ruled he was an illegal immigrant
Michael Braithwaite lost his teaching assistant job after his employer ruled he was an illegal immigrant
Experienced special needs teaching assistant Michael Braithwaite lost his job after his employers ruled that he was an illegal immigrant – despite living here for more than 50 years.
He arrived in Britain from Barbados in 1961, and had worked at a north London primary school for over 15 years when a routine check on his immigration status revealed he did not have an up to date identity document.
His employer got in touch with him to tell him that without a biometric card he could not continue to be employed. He lost his full time job in 2017, after the local authority ruled he needed to submit proof he had the right to live in the UK.
A biometric card is a residence permit issued to non-British residents, with details of their immigration status
Mr Braithwaite attended primary school and secondary school in Britain, and worked continuously since leaving school. He married in London and has three British children and five grandchildren.
He said: ‘It made me feel like I was an alien. I almost fell apart with the stress. I never applied for a British passport. We thought we were British.’
Enny Choudhury, Braithwaite’s lawyer, from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: ‘For almost one year the Home Office has failed to issue the biometric card, without which he cannot work or move on with his life, causing uncertainty and distress.’
Grandmother Paulette Wilson threatened with deportation
Grandmother Paulette Wilson has finally given leave to remain after a two-and-a-half year struggle
Grandmother Paulette Wilson, from Wolverhampton, was threatened with deportation, despite living here for 50 years.
This month she finally received leave to remain in Britain after a two-and-a-half-year struggle.
The 61-year-old was denied benefits, access to healthcare and refused permission to work.
In 2015 she received a letter saying she had ‘no right’ to be in the country, telling he she had to register each month in Solihull, and she even spent a week in the immigration detention centre in Yarl’s Wood in October.
Mrs Wilson was taken to London Heathrow Airport and threatened with deportation to Jamaica, where she has not returned since leaving age 10.
But now she has received a biometric residency permit, confirming her settled status in the UK and bringing her a step nearer to gaining British citizenship.
She said: ‘I’ve never done anything wrong; how could I be an illegal?
‘It would be nice to get an apology from the government saying: we are sorry we put you though this.’
Paulette will now have to complete a naturalisation process to become a British citizen.
Her worried daughter Natalie Barnes says her mum is still traumatised by her experience.
She added: ‘The experience of being in the detention centre won’t ever leave her.’