The highly anticipated Windrush Lessons Learned Review has condemned the Home Office’s treatment of migrants, referring primarily to the Windrush scandal. The review highlights the “profound institutional failure” which caused people who came to the UK from Commonwealth countries to be wrongly told they were in Britain illegally. The 1971 Immigration Act confirmed that the Windrush generation had, and have, the right of abode in the UK, yet the Home Office showed “ignorance and thoughtlessness” on the issue of race, which led to the devastation of thousands of people’s lives.
The writer behind the report, Wendy Williams, an inspector of constabulary, found that warnings about the “hostile environment” policy were “not heeded” and called on the government to provide an “unqualified apology” to those affected, as well as to the wider black African-Caribbean community. Williams found “an institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation” in the Home Office. The review cites racist legislation stretching back to the 1960s, proving the Home Office has not been fit for purpose for decades. To this day, victims of the Windrush scandal are fighting to be given the compensation they deserve and, in some cases, are still struggling with their immigration cases.
The review uses the case of Nathaniel, a British citizen who went on holiday to Jamaica in 2001 with his daughter Veronica and was never allowed to re-enter Britain. He had lived in Britain for forty years, yet due to the cruelty of the Home Office, he died in 2010 of prostate cancer he couldn’t afford to treat in Jamaica. The impact of the Windrush scandal is still evident today. Gbolagade Ibukun-Oluwa, 59, has lived in Britain continuously for over forty years. He is one of a number of people still attempting to get help almost two years after the government first apologised for the Windrush scandal and promised to fix its errors. Ibukun-Oluwa, who uses a wheelchair, has been forced into homelessness, spending his nights at cafés in Heathrow Airport since 2008.
The report found that until the scandal, many Home Office staff were ignorant of the history of the Windrush generation and British colonialism. The lack of BAME staff in senior leadership roles has been seen to have contributed to the racial ignorance in the Home Office as many staff members have “a misconception that racism is confined to decisions made with racist motivations”. Racism doesn’t have to be intentional to be destructive, and this has been brutally illustrated in the lives torn apart by the ignorance of the Home Office.
Williams writes the Home Office “must open itself up to greater external scrutiny; and it must change its culture to recognise that migration and wider Home Office policy is about people and, whatever its objective, should be rooted in humanity”. Due to COVID-19, the Windrush Lesson Learned Review was released to a sparsely populated House of Commons. The pandemic has dominated the media, causing fears that the government may attempt to brush the review under the rug and keep it out of the minds of the public.
Home Secretary Priti Patel attempted to pass the blame, stating she wanted the Windrush scandal to be remembered as a failure of “successive” governments. Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott told Patel that “people will believe her apology when they see her genuinely seek to implement the recommendations in the review”. I share Diane Abbott’s sentiment. Until the Home Office directly tackles the prejudices found in the department, the ignorance which led to the Windrush scandal will lead to the continuation of the unjust suffering of British migrants and their families.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.