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Windrush

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:06 pm on 2nd May 2018.

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Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood 6:06 pm, 2nd May 2018

The Windrush generation are remarkable for their resilience and their grace. Before the Windrush sailed from the Caribbean, many of its passengers had volunteered to serve in the UK armed forces during the second world war, making that extraordinary sacrifice despite the racism they experienced, and choosing to rise above it and to serve the cause of fighting fascism in Europe. The Windrush passengers were also answering a call for help from the British Government to come and rebuild Britain after the devastation of the second world war. They came, above all else, to contribute.

I am proud to represent Coldharbour Lane in Brixton, the location of the labour exchange where, in 1948, many of the passengers of the Empire Windrush came to look for work. They found it in our NHS, at London Transport and in other public services. They found it in factories, the construction industry and offices. Many made their home in Brixton, establishing the first large Caribbean community in London. Nothing about that journey was easy, from the separation from family and friends and the long sea crossing to the arrival in a cold and unfamiliar climate and the daily experience of racism epitomised in the signs on doors reading, “no blacks, no dogs, no Irish”. But the Windrush generation found a way.

The Brixton we know today was made by Windrush citizens, from the shops and the markets to the music, the community centres and the churches. Windrush citizens made Brixton not only a place with a strong Caribbean community, but a place of tolerance where diversity is celebrated and where everyone is welcome whatever their background. I moved to Brixton in 1996, and for a young person from a small town in the north of England it felt like the centre of the world. Brixton embraced me and allowed me to call it home. I am proud now to have the privilege of representing our fabulous Windrush community.

That same community, however, has encountered an immigration system under this Government that has no grace and is devoid of all compassion. It is a system that is programmed to assume the worst of everyone—to ascribe bad motives to even the most innocent of errors and to look for every possible reason why anyone who has come to the UK from overseas should not be allowed to stay. It is a system that is loaded to saying no until it is forced to do otherwise, delivering injustice in many forms.

First, there is the injustice of incompetence: the hundreds and hundreds of people I see whose applications are delayed, whose papers have been lost, or whose decisions are founded on a mistake made by the Home Office itself. Secondly, there is the enormous injustice of a system that has proactively and deliberately used the lack of formal papers held by many British citizens who have been here for decades as an excuse to try to remove them from their home or deny them access to public funds.

The third injustice affects families seeking to travel to visit one another for a range of different reasons. I have lost count of the number of heartbreaking cases in which family members seeking to travel to a wedding, a funeral, to help out around the birth of a new baby or to support a loved one who is sick have been prevented from doing so, because the Home Office makes an assumption that anyone wanting to enter the UK must be trying to do so with the motive of staying here permanently. The most outrageous case concerned my constituent, Isaac, whose leukaemia stem cell transplant from his brother in Nigeria was delayed because the Home Office said that he might want to outstay his visa.

The final injustice I want to mention is that of having no recourse to public funds, which, right here, right now in this city, is causing a family with children and a heavily pregnant mother to sleep on our streets while two councils argue over who has a duty to look after them and put a roof over their heads.

A Department that is dealing with so many people in such appalling ways cannot command any confidence in its ability to deal fairly with the hundreds of thousands of EU nationals who will call the UK home post Brexit. We cannot allow this injustice to continue, and we cannot allow it to happen again. Nothing short of a root and branch review of the Home Office, a full compensation scheme for Windrush citizens and a radical change of approach will be adequate as a response to this scandal.