Everything you need to know about the Windrush scandal

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Moya Crockett
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Amber Rudd has been forced to resign following new revelations connected to the Windrush scandal – and the UK has a new home secretary. Here are all the key facts.

Sajid Javid has been announced as the UK’s new home secretary following the resignation of Amber Rudd. Rudd announced she was stepping down from her position on Sunday 29 April, after “inadvertently misleading” MPs about the government’s illegal immigration removal targets.

Rudd’s resignation followed weeks of uproar about the government’s treatment of the Windrush generation. Read on for an explanation of why Rudd had to quit against the backdrop of the Windrush scandal. 

Why did Rudd have to resign? 

Amber Rudd leaving Downing St on 25 April 

While answering questions about the Windrush scandal on Wednesday 25 April, the former home secretary told MPs that the Home Office did not have targets for removing illegal immigrants.

She was forced to backtrack on this claim when it emerged that local targets had been set for voluntary removals (when people agree to leave the UK, rather than being forcibly deported). Rudd insisted she had been unaware that these targets existed, and promised to scrap them.

However, The Guardian revealed on Sunday 29 April that Rudd herself had written privately to Theresa May in January 2017, outlining her “ambitious but deliverable” goal to deport 10% more illegal immigrants over the “next few years”. She said she would direct Home Office officials to focus on “arresting, detaining and forcibly removing illegal migrants”, while “ruthlessly” prioritising its resources in that area.

This letter appeared to suggest Rudd had deceived MPs when she insisted she had been unaware of any illegal immigration removal targets.

Rudd submitted her resignation letter to the Prime Minister on Sunday evening. May responded with a letter of her own, in which she said she was “very sorry” to see her go. She added that she still believed Rudd had acted “in good faith” when answering the MPs’ questions. 

What do illegal immigration targets have to do with the Windrush scandal?

New UK home secretary Sajid Javid 

At the heart of the Windrush scandal is the fact that many elderly people of Caribbean backgrounds have been treated like illegal immigrants. Crucially, the Windrush generation are not in the UK illegally, but came here legitimately before 1973.

In recent years, however, many members of the Windrush generation have faced questions about whether they are genuinely entitled to live in the UK. This is largely due to the infamous “hostile environment” to illegal immigration introduced by May when she was home secretary. Some Windrush citizens have lost jobs and homes, while others have been denied access to healthcare, detained in immigration centres and threatened with deportation (read on for more about the history of the Windrush generation).

Since the scandal broke, the government has been at pains to emphasise that it does not consider the Windrush generation to be here illegally – despite how it has handled many of their cases until very recently. On 16 April, Rudd announced she was setting up a dedicated taskforce to help individuals confirm their right to remain.

Many MPs have raised concerns that immigration officials may have treated members of the Windrush generation more harshly because of government targets for the removal of illegal immigrants.

Asked how the targets could have affected Windrush citizens, Diane Abbott said: “Immigration officials may have been looking for soft targets in the shape of West Indian pensioners who don’t have hot-shot lawyers.”  

Who are the Windrush generation? 

Passengers on the HMT Empire Windrush, on the 1948 voyage bound for the UK 

‘Windrush generation’ refers to people who arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1971 from Caribbean countries that were part of the British Commonwealth. The name is a reference to the ship HMT Empire Windrush, which arrived in Essex in 1948 carrying 492 passengers from Jamaica. The arrival of the Windrush is widely seen as representing the start of mass immigration into the UK.

All people living in the UK or one of its colonies had been granted UK citizenship shortly before the arrival of the Windrush. These people also became known as Commonwealth citizens, and they were actively encouraged to move to the UK to help rebuild the country in the wake of World War II (indeed, around 10,000 soldiers from Caribbean countries had fought for Britain in both world wars).

Between 1948 and 1962, Commonwealth citizens were allowed to settle indefinitely in the UK with no restrictions, with many hired to work in essential industries such as public transport and the NHS. There were more restrictions on who could settle in the UK between 1962 and 1973, but many Commonwealth citizens were still able to move here legally.

The Immigration Act 1971, which came into force in 1973, put an end to significant migration to the UK from the Commonwealth. After 1973, only Commonwealth citizens already living and working in the UK had the automatic right to remain; other British passport-holders born overseas were allowed to settle here only if they met certain criteria.

Despite these laws, huge numbers of Commonwealth citizens moved to the UK legally. Oxford University’s Migration Observatory estimates that there are currently around 500,000 people living in the UK who were born in a Commonwealth country and arrived before 1971.

What problems have Windrush citizens faced in recent years?

Children’s TV presenter Floella Benjamin, who was born in Trinidad, has spoken of how she could “so easily” be one of the Windrush citizens threatened with deportation 

Many have been threatened with deportation, blocked from accessing NHS treatment, lost their jobs and made homeless – despite having lived, worked, paid taxes and raised families in the UK for decades.

This is a consequence of changes to immigration law in 2012, implemented when Theresa May was home secretary. Under the changes, people must have documentation to prove their right to work, rent property or access state benefits, including healthcare. 

Why is there confusion about whether Windrush citizens are here legally? 

Londoner Anthony Bryan has been threatened with deportation, despite arriving in the UK legally in 1966, aged eight

Many people born in Jamaica and other Caribbean countries arrived in the UK as children on their parents’ passports, and have never previously been required to apply for travel or immigration documents. Many have always believed they already were British citizens, because they moved to the UK at a time when their birth country was still a British colony.

In addition, the Home Office did not keep a record of those who were granted leave to remain in past decades and has not issued any paperwork confirming the matter – making it almost impossible for many Windrush citizens to prove they are in the UK legally.

On 17 April, a Home Office whistleblower revealed that thousands of landing card slips recording Windrush immigrants’ arrival dates in the UK in the Fifties and Sixties had been deliberately destroyed in 2010 when a government building was closed. These arrival slips could have provided essential evidence for a person’s right to remain in the UK, as they would confirm they had moved to Britain before the 1971 Immigration Act was passed. 

How did this come out? 

In November, The Guardian published an interview with Paulette Wilson, who was being threatened with deportation to Jamaica despite having lived in the UK for more than 50 years. 

Since then, several stories have emerged of other Windrush citizens being treated cruelly by the government. These include Renford McIntyre – a former NHS driver who was made homeless after being told he was not eligible to work or receive government support – and a man with prostate cancer who was evicted from his home and denied treatment on the NHS, despite having lived in the UK for 44 years. Pressure began to mount on the government to explain its policy on the Windrush generation. 

What has the government done about it? 

Theresa May meets with Caribbean leaders on 17 April to discuss the treatment of the Windrush generation 

Yes and no. The Prime Minister apologised to Caribbean leaders on 17 April for how her government has treated Windrush migrants, and insisted that the Home Office was not “clamping down on Commonwealth citizens, particularly those from the Caribbean”.

She went on to pledge that no Windrush citizens would be deported from the UK, adding: “I want to apologise to you today. Because we are genuinely sorry for any anxiety that has been caused.”

However, she has refused to apologise for introducing the “hostile environment” immigration policies that many see as having contributed to the Windrush scandal. On 25 April, she refused to review the rules she implemented or explain why she ignored warnings that her policies would end up ‘trapping’ people who were in the UK legally.

“Up and down this country, people want to ensure that the government is taking action against those people who are here in this country illegally,” May told MPs in the Commons. 

How can I help? 

You can sign the petition started by activist Patrick Vernon, whose parents arrived in the UK from Jamaica in the Fifties, calling on the government to grant an amnesty to anyone who arrived in the UK as a minor between 1948 and 1971.

Amelia Gentleman, a reporter at The Guardian who broke the story of Paulette Wilson in November, has also highlighted several charities doing good work to support Windrush citizens facing potential legal difficulties: Praxis, the Refugee and Migrant Centre in Wolverhampton and St Mungo’s, which has supported people made homeless by the scandal. 

Images: Getty Images