Windrush generation: Who are they and why are they facing problems?

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Media captionA look back at life when the Windrush generation arrived in the UK

It has been two years since the Windrush scandal broke.

It led to the government apologising for deportation threats made to the children of Commonwealth citizens. Despite living and working in the UK for decades, many were told they were there illegally because of a lack of official paperwork.

Since then, reports and compensation schemes have been launched, but some people are concerned that not enough has been done.

Who are the "Windrush generation"?

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Those arriving in the UK between 1948 and 1971 from Caribbean countries have been labelled the Windrush generation.

This is a reference to the ship MV Empire Windrush, which arrived at Tilbury Docks, Essex, on 22 June 1948, bringing workers from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other islands, as a response to post-war labour shortages in the UK.

The ship carried 492 passengers - many of them children.

It is unclear how many people belong to the Windrush generation, since many of those who arrived as children travelled on their parents' passports and never applied for travel documents - but they are thought to be in their thousands.

There are now over 500,000 people resident in the UK who were born in a Commonwealth country and arrived before 1971 - including the Windrush arrivals - according to estimates by Oxford University's Migration Observatory.

The generation's end

The influx ended with the 1971 Immigration Act, when Commonwealth citizens already living in the UK were given indefinite leave to remain.

After this, a British passport-holder born overseas could only settle in the UK if they firstly had a work permit and, secondly, could prove that a parent or grandparent had been born in the UK.

Where are they now?

Many of the arrivals became manual workers, cleaners, drivers and nurses - and some broke new ground in representing black Britons in society.

The Jamaican-British campaigner Sam Beaver King, who died in 2016 aged 90, arrived at Tilbury Docks in his 20s before finding work as a postman.

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Media captionWhat was life like for first-generation Windrush migrants?

He later became the first black Mayor of Southwark in London.

The Labour MP David Lammy, whose parents arrived in the UK from Guyana, describes himself as a "proud son of the Windrush".

Are they here legally?

The Home Office did not keep a record of those granted leave to remain or issue any paperwork confirming it - meaning it is difficult for Windrush arrivals to prove they are in the UK legally.

And in 2010, landing cards belonging to Windrush migrants were destroyed by the Home Office.

Because they came from British colonies that had not achieved independence, they believed they were British citizens.

At the time of the scandal, then International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said there was "absolutely no question" of the Windrush generation's right to remain.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "People should not be concerned about this - they have the right to stay and we should be reassuring them of that."

What were they facing?

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Media caption"My whole life sunk down to my feet" - Windrush migrant Michael Braithwaite

Those who lacked documents were told they needed evidence to continue working, get treatment from the NHS - or even to remain in the UK.

Changes to immigration law by successive governments, which require people to have documentation to work, rent a property or access benefits, including healthcare, left people fearful about their status.

Sonia Williams, who came to the UK from Barbados in 1975, aged 13, said she had her driving licence withdrawn and lost her job when she was told she did not have indefinite leave to remain.

Image caption Sonia Williams came to the UK in the 1970s

"I came here as a minor to join my mum, dad, sister and brother," she told BBC Two's Newsnight. "I wasn't just coming on holiday."

Paulette Wilson, 61, who came to Britain from Jamaica aged 10 in the late 1960s, said she received a letter saying she was in the country illegally.

"I just didn't understand it and I kept it away from my daughter for about two weeks, walking around in a daze thinking 'why am I illegal?'

A review of historical cases found that at least 83 individuals who had arrived before 1973 had been removed from the country.

What did the government do?

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Media captionTheresa May's Windrush apology to Caribbean leaders

Prime minister at the time, Theresa May, apologised for their treatment. An inquiry was announced and a compensation scheme established.

The inquiry, which released its report in March this year, said that the scandal was "foreseeable and avoidable". The report criticised "a culture of disbelief and carelessness" in the Home Office.

The inquiry made 30 recommendations including :

  • the Home Office should set up a full review of the UK's "hostile environment" immigration policy
  • the appointment a migrants commissioner
  • establishment of a race advisory board

The government has said it accepts the recommendations in full and is working on a plan to implement them.

The Windrush Compensation Scheme was established in April 2019. By the end of March 2020, 1,275 had applied for financial compensation, with 60 people receiving payments totalling £363,000.

This is some way short of the 15,000 claims expected to be lodged worth an estimated £200m. The deadline for applications is April 2023.

A separate taskforce aimed to give individuals correct documentation, with over 12,000 receiving it or citizenship since April 2018.

How have the government's actions been received?

Wendy Williams, the author of the inquiry report, has warned there is a "grave risk" of similar failings happening again if the government fails to implement its recommendations.

Campaigners have also criticised the speed at which the compensation scheme has been rolled out, as well as the size of the payments.

For example, an individual would receive £10,000 for being deported, or £500 for denial of access to higher education. Individuals would receive £250 for every month of homelessness.

The government has said that while it's true that the flat payment for deportation is set at £10,000, it would also be combined with other payments such as loss of earnings. It adds that, including other schemes in place, over £1m has been handed out to victims.

A campaign to promote the compensation scheme has also been launched.

How is the Windrush celebrated?

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Image caption The Windrush was recreated during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games

Events are held annually to commemorate the Windrush's arrival 72 years ago, and the subsequent wave of immigration from Caribbean countries.

Windrush Day is commemorated on 22 June - the first being observed in 2018. The lead-up to the event is marked with exhibitions, church services and cultural events.

A model of the MV Empire Windrush featured in the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games, while in 2019, the National Theatre put on a production of Andrea Levy's Small Island, a story first-generation Jamaican immigrants.

In June, the BBC broadcast a feature-length drama inspired by the Windrush scandal. It featured one man's experience of wrongful detention by the Home Office and threats of deportation.

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