In 2010, the UK’s Home Office destroyed the landing card records of people who arrived in Britain decades ago, in the country’s first wave of immigration from former Caribbean colonies, potentially exposing them to wrongful deportation.
The Home Office was originally thought to have not kept records of the citizens who had been granted permanent status. However, it emerged that while the decision to dispose of the landing cards was made in 2009 by the Labour government, they were in fact destroyed in 2010 by the Home Office when, now British Prime Minister, Theresa May was home secretary.
These landing cards filled out by the Commonwealth immigrants have previously been used as evidence to support the right of descendants of other immigrants into the UK.
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The scandal has broken as Britain has made efforts to develop new links with Commonwealth countries as it leaves the European Union. May apologized to the leaders and ministers of 12 Caribbean countries during a meeting in Downing Street on Tuesday, reassuring descendants of the “Windrush’ generation who came in the 1950s that they will not face deportation.
May said: “Those who arrived from the Caribbean before 1973 and lived here permanently without significant periods of time away in the last 30 years have the right to remain in the UK.”
The former head of the UK’s Civil Service, Lord Kerslake, said on BBC television that some of his colleagues believed May’s Home Office immigration operations were “almost reminiscent of Nazi Germany.” He called for an investigation into the fate of the documents.
Having grown up and resided in the UK their entire lives, while contributing taxes, some of these citizens have never felt the need to formalize their citizenship. The 1971 Immigration Act gave those already living in the country the option to accept or refuse “leave to remain” in the United Kingdom; it also revoked freedom of movement between Commonwealth nations. An estimated half a million people were born in a Commonwealth country and migrated to the UK before 1971, says the Migration Observatory at Oxford University. Although 57,000 Commonwealth born people self-identifying non-UK nationals could be affected by this, the exact number remains unknown.
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The Guardian has interviewed Windrush citizens who were wrongfully classified as illegal immigrants because of the tighter immigration rules and how this resulted in them being sent to immigration removal centers, losing their right to work or losing their access medical care, for example. Unless they are able to produce documents confirming their right to live in the UK, the Home Office has threatened them with deportation.
Albert Thompson was denied treatment for his cancer because he was unable to prove he legally living in the UK. May publicly assured Thompson that he would receive the care he needed. However, the Royal Marsden Hospital appear to have not made his case urgent despite originally being scheduled to start his 12-week radiotherapy last November (The Guardian).
On BBC’s Today show on Friday, a former senior immigration official, David Wood, said in reaction to Thompson’s situation: “Yes it’s a terrible consequence of a policy that has not been thought through for unforeseen consequences like this.”
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On April 16, the UK Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, apologized for the “appalling” treatment of Windrush migrants by her department. A Home Office taskforce of 20 is trying to find out whether anyone deported so far had arrived from the Caribbean as children. It is also directly dealing with Windrush applicants to ensure they can find evidence necessary to support their citizenship (The Guardian).
David Lammy, a Labour MP, directly addressed the Home Secretary in the House of Commons and said: “It is her department that has deported them. She should know the number.” He later added: “Today is a day of national shame.”
My parents came here as citizens, now the #windrush generation are suffering inhumane treatment at the hands of the Home Office.
If you lay down with dogs, you get fleas!
This is a day of national shame: the PM and Home Sec must apologise! pic.twitter.com/gxqoSErU3o
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) April 16, 2018
When Britain’s Immigration Minister, Caroline Nokes, was asked during a TV interview whether any of these people may have accidentally been deported, her response was: “Potentially they have been, and I’m very conscious that it’s very much in error and that’s an error I want to put right.” A day later, On BBC Radio 4’s Today program, the UK’s Cabinet Office Minister, David Lidington, said: “The position is that we have no information. We do not know of any cases where somebody who has been deported is in this category.”
Adam Wagner, a human rights lawyer at Doughty Street Chambers and the founder of the UK Human Rights blog, tweeted to almost 40,000 followers in defense of the Prime Minister and the Home Office. He said: “I don’t really blame Theresa May or Amber Rudd for what’s happened – I see them as products of a political choice many many years ago to cut net immigration to ridiculously low numbers – 100,000 or so.”
In another tweet, Wagner added: “That choice, which we need to remember was a popular one, created the modern immigration system. in a sense the voters, not Theresa May, are the culprit here.”