The suffering of the Windrush generation continues despite government promises of compensation and an inquiry, an event in Lewisham was told last night.
Judy Griffiths, from north London, who almost lost her home of 31 years when she was unable to prove her right to remain in the UK spoke of the Windrush generation’s ongoing fight for justice.
Griffiths told the meeting at Goldsmiths in New Cross, said that she still feels angry that victims are still suffering: “Where is Amber Rudd [the Home Secretary who resigned over the scandal] now? Where is Theresa May? They are living their best lives while we are still struggling. All those bills, all the credit cards, all the friends we’ve lost. This isn’t finished for us… Will the dead have to show their passports at the gates of Heaven?”
She was speaking alongside Amelia Gentleman, the Guardian reporter who exposed Britain’s hostile environment policy which saw numerous British citizens wrongly detained, and in many cases, deported.
Gentleman spoke about one of the Windrush generation she interviewed, Paulette Wilson, 68, from Wolverhampton: “Paulette has worked here all her life. She was in employment, paying taxes, living an entirely legal existence. She was horrified to get a letter telling her that she was living here illegally and must return to Jamaica, a country she hadn’t visited in 50 years, and where she had no surviving relatives.”
Facsimiles of landing card slips recording Windrush immigrants’ arrival dates. Pic: Eleonora Girotto
Wilson detained at the notorious Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre and booked on a flight to Jamaica. At the 11th hour she was released. But she still faced the threat of deportation and “no admission that a mistake had been made.”
When Gentleman wrote about Wilson in November 2017, there was “outrage at the idea that our immigration system was trying to deport a grandmother who had done nothing wrong.”
Gentleman and Griffiths discussed some of the difficulties of reporting on such a scandal: “It’s a really big ask for people to agree to be photographed under a headline that is going to indicate that they have been branded, even though wrongly, as an illegal immigrant.”
Griffiths agreed that it was a difficult process: “You’re always in a state of fear. You feel like you’re being watched and that’s so embarrassing, even your own family look at you as if you have done something wrong.”
Gentleman said that despite the courage of victims, the political response was shockingly poor. “I felt really frustrated that The Guardian was publishing outrageous, earnest articles, highlighting that there was something going seriously wrong, but there was no acknowledgement.”
The scandal blew up during last year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit, when Theresa May denied Caribbean state leaders a meeting to discuss Windrush. From that point on, Gentleman says the political world started to react, and eventually Rudd resigned.
More recently, a taskforce has been set up, the Home Office has issued 8000 people with papers and has promised victims compensation.
But Griffiths says it is too little too late: “They took away our basic needs; it was so distressing. I was that close to losing everything, including my home of 31 years.”
During the ordeal, her mother died. “I still haven’t been able to visit her grave very because I couldn’t leave the country. I wasn’t allowed to attend the funeral. That is a very horrifying thing to have happened.”
Griffiths said: “If it wasn’t for Amelia and The Guardian we would still be hiding and feeling alone. I was so shocked when I heard of all the other people that this had been happening to. Because I felt like I was alone.”
Just this week a Hackney Windrush campaigner died three weeks after being recognised by the Home Office as British. Hubert Howard, 62, arrived from Jamaica at the age of three, and died of leukaemia on Tuesday. His family said his British citizenship came without compensation or apology and was of little comfort.