Why We Have To Do Something About the Deportation of British-Caribbean Citizens

Following the Second World War, Britain was greatly suffering from a labour shortage and declining population. Thousands of Caribbean men and women had served in the armed forces during the war, and many who had returned to the Caribbean, on leave from their units, decided to make the voyage to England when the SS Empire Windrush stopped there.  In 1948, the arrival of the Windrush marked the beginning of the postwar migration phenomenon which would reshape Britain forever. In 2018 however, those migrants and their families face deportation. 

Britain greatly encouraged Commonwealth citizens to the country, promising secure employment, prosperity, and most of all, full rights of citizenship. Over the next decade, over 250,000 Caribbean migrants would arrive in the UK, alongside large numbers of Pakistani and Indian migrants. Before 1950, the British non-white population stood at around 30,000. Within a few years, this had catapulted to over 500,000.  

When Caribbean people arrived in the UK, they greatly helped to restore and rebuild the country which was still feeling the aftereffects of being ravaged by war. People from the West Indies worked across all areas in various sectors, from manual and semi-skilled roles such as porters, cleaners, nurses and drivers. Highly-paid and highly-skilled jobs were harder for Caribbean migrants to obtain, due to discrimination and racism in the workplace being rife. The British rail, the newly formed NHS and public transport companies needed to recruit people urgently, and Caribbean migrants acted almost exclusively as the workforce foundation. Despite the fact that most Caribbean migrants were highly-educated and had professions, the introduction of unofficial ‘colour bars’ meant that Caribbean people struggled to be employed in certain sectors. Jack Howard Drake, who worked for the Home Office between 1965 and 1972, stated ‘We were quite happy to employ coloured people, providing they weren’t visible.’

Prior to the Race Relations Act, enforced in 1965, it was commonplace to see signs such as ‘No Dogs. No Blacks. No Irish.’ The 1958 Notting Hill riots marked a significant moment in London’s history. Following nine white youths gravely assaulting eight young black men on a “nigger hunting expedition” around the area (which at the time was a predominantly black area), and a minor domestic dispute a week later that led to a 200-strong white mob attacking black people with weapons such as butcher’s knives. Borne out of these racial tensions, a Caribbean Festival was organised by Trinidadian, Claudia Jones, which over time became Notting Hill Carnival. Since then, Caribbean people have contributed hugely to the UK’s economy and culture, redefining what it means to be British.

Now, in the year of the 60th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush, thousands of Commonwealth citizens who have lived in the UK all their adult lives are facing deportation at the hands of the Home Office. Despite urges from senior Caribbean diplomats, those with ‘unresolved residency status’ are being denied access to their pensions, housing, healthcare, employment and even citizenship.  

Caribbean people are currently being held in detention centres, such as the notorious Yarl’s Wood, where they are denied information on why they are being held. Many of these people no longer have family ties in the Caribbean. These are citizens who have been educated in the UK, who have contributed to the UK economy by working, paying taxes and national insurance. Moreover, these are citizens whose children are UK citizens. To deny citizenship to these people is both a public disgrace, and a stark reminder of Britain’s sinister lack of compassion for immigrants.  

Anthony Bryan, aged 52, was told he was in the country illegally and faced forced removal. Despite not visiting the country since he left aged 8, he was sent to an immigration centre and booked by Home Office staff on a flight back to Jamaica. A man who attended both primary and secondary school, worked as a painter and decorator, brought up his country and seven grandchildren in Britain. It is solely due to the intervention of an immigrant lawyer that his flight was cancelled, and he was released from detention, however this is no victory. His status remains the same, and his future looks precarious.

Paulette Wilson, aged 61, was detained for a week at Yarl’s Wood. Before the grandmother and former cook at the House of Commons had a chance to try and locate her papers, she had her benefits and flat taken way, was detained and threatened with deportation. Once again, a last-minute intervention from her MP and local charity managed to halt her forced removal. Renewed attempts to remove her continue to leave her feeling anxious about her future. To this day, Wilson has not received an apology from any government official.

Migrants who arrived prior to 1971 legally have the right to remain under the Immigration Act which allowed those who had settled in Britain indefinite leave to remain. To threaten these citizens with deportation is a solemn reminder of the ‘hostile environment’ that Theresa May has relentlessly boasted about over the past five years. The selection process shows a malicious targeting: many of those threatened with deportation don’t have a solid knowledge of the system, nor do they have the funds to seek legal advice.   

The list of names goes on. Sarah O’Connor, who moved to Britain from Jamaica, at the age of six, has been denied the right to work or claim benefits. Albert Thompson, aged 63, who arrived in the UK as a teenager in 1973, has been denied the right to cancer care. How can the government allow a man who has both lived here for 44 years and paid his taxes for over three decades to be left to perish? How longer can we allow citizens to be denied basic human rights?

When we hear stories of deportation, we don’t hear about the feeling of uncertainty, the fear of citizens being sent back to a place where there’s nowhere to go. For some, there are no angry family members to stand up for their right to indefinite leave. There aren’t always lawyers or MPs on-hand to provide the necessary support and guidance. The public can only do so much – how many JustGiving or Change.org petitions do there need to be before we see government action?

These stories hit close to home particularly for those who are second-generation or third-generation immigrants. My grandmother arrived from Jamaica in the 1960s and worked three jobs in the UK until her retirement, including as a nurse at St Thomas’ Hospital. My mother arrived in the UK, shortly after, aged 10 years old, attended school and university here, and worked in social services. To see their peers treated in such a way speaks volumes about how Britain values its Commonwealth citizens. The Caribbean people who came to this country in search of a better future have helped to restore the country and contributed to services that all British citizens need and benefit from. In return, the same way soldiers from the West Indies were thrown out of the UK after World War II, these Caribbean people have too been rejected. The time has now come for us as citizens to come together to ensure the future of these citizens is protected.

Patrick Vernon OBE, has begun a petition which currently stands at over 170,000 signatures, to grant amnesty to anyone who was a minor who arrived in Britain between 1948 to 1971, and calling on the government to cease current deportations, change the burden of proof and establish an amnesty for anyone who was a minor, as well as providing compensation for loss and hurt.

You can sign the petition here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/216539  

Written by Mireille Harper

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