The UK government says it aims to implement all the recommendations from a review into the Windrush scandal, which ensnared Caribbean migrants who helped rebuild postwar Britain but were caught up in recent immigration crackdowns.
As the country faces up to accusations of systemic racism in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, Home Secretary Priti Patel told the House of Commons there were “serious and significant lessons” to be learned by the Home Office, the government department which deals with immigration and security.
Some members of the so-called Windrush generation – who had been in the UK for decades but struggled to prove their status in recent years – were refused medical care, denied housing and deported or threatened with deportation.
Patel told lawmakers Tuesday that compensation payments had been too slow, and acknowledged the review had been “damning” about the conduct of her department. She accepted the conclusions of the review into the scandal “in full” and promised to return with an update on how they would be put into practice before the UK Parliament’s seven-week break begins in late July.
The British government’s treatment of the Windrush generation – known after the Empire Windrush passenger liner that brought some of them across the Atlantic – exploded into a major political scandal two years ago.
A raft of cases emerged in which people who had arrived in the UK from Commonwealth countries before 1973, and sometimes their descendants, were struggling to prove their citizenship status. Often lacking documentation from their arrival decades earlier, they found themselves caught up in a new immigration regime described as a “hostile environment” by former Home Secretary Theresa May. By the time the scandal erupted in 2018, May had gone on to become Prime Minister.
Patel’s announcement came a day after the third annual Windrush Day and the release of a CNN/Savanta ComRes poll that revealed Britain’s deep race divide.
CNN’s poll released on Monday found that 58% Black people in Britain believe the governing Conservative Party is institutionally racist. The poll also found that 55% of Black people said they did not have faith in the UK government to prevent a scandal similar to Windrush from occurring again, while 38% said they did. The figures were virtually reversed for White Britons – 55% trusted the government to avoid another scandal, while 39% did not.
Patel said that she and the Home Office’s most senior civil servant were reviewing the department’s “leadership, its culture, the practices and the way it views and treats all parts of the community it serves” in the wake of the review. Patel added that she had “apologized for the appalling treatment suffered by the Windrush generation.”
“The review itself was damning about the conduct of the Home Office and unequivocal about the ignorance and institutional thoughtlessness towards the race and the history of the Windrush generation by the department,” said Patel. Some members of this group had “suffered unspeakable injustices and institutional failures spanning successive governments over several decades.”
“Work is continuing unabated to ensure that those who suffered receive the documentation and compensation they need,” she added.
In April 2018, May apologized for her government’s treatment of some Caribbean immigrants and insisted they were still welcome in the country. A year later, then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced a compensation program for people who had been wrongfully detained or removed from the UK.
However, the program was widely criticized after only a small number of claimants received payments. In February 2020, the deadline for applications was extended to April 2023.
Patel said on Tuesday that the scheme set up in 2018 had administered 35 urgent and exceptional compensation payments totaling over £46,000 ($58,000) by the end of March 2020. She said it had also granted documentation to over 12,000 people including over 5,900 grants of citizenship. “We have been working tirelessly to support the most urgent cases and those most in need,” she said.