Angry Windrush scandal victims from Croydon have strongly criticised the Home Office compensation scheme – which could not confirm a single payment.
The criticisms were aired at a meeting in Thornton Heath between Windrush victims and relatives, campaigners and a senior Home Office official involved in administering the compensation scheme.
Azeez Bellow, who arrived in the United Kingdom from Ivory Coast in 1984 at the age of 13, told the meeting that he had been accused by the Home Office of having a false passport. After serving his time in prison, Bellow said he was then detained at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre for 2 months.
Having never been issued a passport by the Home Office, Bellow told Eastlondonlines that monetary compensation is the least of his concerns; “I want to have my life back, I want to have my documents,” he said. His treatment by the Home Office led him to conclude that “no black people believe what they are saying” over compensation payouts.
“The two hundred million would not be enough to pay the solicitors to sort out the mess, because what they were doing is illegal,” one man who asked not to be identified said. He continued: “Compensation will not take away the pain in the gut” before leaving the meeting.
A budget of £200 million has been allocated to pay compensation to victims.
Under the scheme, those detained for over 30 minutes are entitled to £500 per hour for the first three hours, followed by lower hourly rates if they were held for longer. People wrongly made homeless can expect £250 per month, up to a maximum of £25,000.
Callton Young, Labour councillor for Thornton Heath – home to the largest number of West Indians of any ward in London – and chair of Croydon African Caribbean Family Organisation (CACFO), organised the event along with a senior official from the Home Office’s Windrush team.
They were joined on the panel by Elwaldo Romeo, the Chair of Windrush Action, a campaign group seeking justice for those affected. Romeo was himself stripped of his passport in 1996, and subsequently “unlawfully detained in this country for 12 years.”
The official from The Home Office – who cannot be named because of the General Election purdah convention – received only a weak round of applause from the audience of around 25 as she began her presentation. “The events of the Windrush scandal absolutely should not have happened,” she said.
The Home Office wanted to “reassure people in the community who have not come forward, who may not have the confidence to come forward, that the money is there and you will receive what you are entitled to,” said the official.
When asked by an audience member the number of payments made so far, and the amounts paid, the Home Office senior official declined to comment.
Announced in April, the scheme was designed to grant compensation to individuals who entered the UK from Commonwealth countries before 1988 and have suffered due to the ‘hostile environment’ policy.
The Windrush compensation scheme is also designed to give documentation confirming legal status in the UK to those who may have had that status removed, lost or not received it in the first place. According to Home Office data, 2,499 people have so far received documents.
Azeez Bellow told how in 2011 the Home Office came to his house and “in front of my three month old child, they took me to prison, they convicted me for having a false passport without verification from my embassy.” Still without proof of identity or right to reside, he is no longer able to work or continue his training to become a train driver for South Eastern Trains.
“As I am speaking to you, I don’t know where I will be getting my food from tonight,” he told Eastlondonlines.
Eight thousand people have so far lodged applications with the Home Office. The Home Office official did not dispute claims from audience members that her department had not yet paid out a single claim.
Amelia Gentleman, the Guardian journalist who exposed Britain’s “hostile environment” policy and the Windrush scandal and Judy Griffiths, one of those directly affected will tell the full story of her investigation and the Windrush generation’s continuing fight for justice at an event at Goldsmiths, University of London, in New Cross, tomorrow, November 14 at 5pm in the Professor Stuart Hall Building. Full details are here