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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Anger over British threats to deport 'Windrush generation'

Homeland actor David Harewood has taken a public stand in a growing row over British efforts to send back thousands of Caribbean-born residents who arrived as long ago as the 1940s

Actor David Harewood gets involved in row over UK efforts to send back Caribbean-born residents. David McNew / AFP
Actor David Harewood gets involved in row over UK efforts to send back Caribbean-born residents. David McNew / AFP

Britain is threatening to deport thousands of immigrants known as the “Windrush generation”, some of them now elderly residents who moved to the UK as children during the first influx of Commonwealth settlers.

Under changes to the UK immigration system, those who arrived between 1948 and 1971 could be deemed “illegal immigrants” and deported if they didn’t naturalise as British citizens or don’t have paperwork proving their legal status.

About 57,000 of the 500,000 who moved from Commonwealth countries to Britain before 1971 could be at risk, The Migration Observatory at Oxford University told The National.

They are called the Windrush generation after the British ship MV Empire Windrush, which transported Caribbean passengers to the UK as a symbol of multiculturalism and tolerance. Britain’s grand gesture is now, decades later, being viewed by some as a travesty of justice.

In a tweet, Homeland actor David Mr Harewood condemned the action.

“All across the Caribbean, for many, England was the mother country. When she put out the call for nurses and teachers to come help rebuild after the war they came to assist and start new lives,” he wrote. “That they should be turfed out after 50 odd years hard work and graft is a disgrace.”

Labour MP David Lammy agreed, calling the situation "grotesque, immoral and inhumane".

Paulette Wilson, 61, is one such case. She moved to Britain from Jamaica in 1968, lived with her grandparents and worked as a cook in the House of Commons. She didn’t apply for a passport, however, and was declared an illegal immigrant.

Mrs Wilson, who gave birth to her daughter in the UK and watched her grandchild grow up in Britain, was told by the Home Office that she would be deported 50 years after arriving. Her MP eventually intervened.

“She has now been given leave to remain,” Baron Richard Faulkner of Worcester told the House of Lords in January, "although she has lost benefits for the past two years, as well as her flat, and has to rely on financial support from her daughter".

Baron Faulkner said there were "many others" like Mrs Wilson and blamed measures introduced by former home secretary Theresa May in 2013 to make the UK a "hostile environment" for illegal immigrants.

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An online petition calling for amnesty for the Windrush generation had attracted more than 51,000 signatures by midday Friday, further pressuring Mrs May’s government.

Patrick Vernon, who started the petition, called it a “slap in the face” and “an historic injustice”. Mr Vernan aims to get 100,000 signatures to trigger a parliamentary debate.

“This has created uncertainty and lack of clarity and justice for tens of thousands of individuals who have worked hard, paid their taxes and raised children and grandchildren and who see Britain as their home.”

Under the Immigration Act 1971, Commonwealth citizens were granted indefinite leave to remain in Britain, but the Home Office did not always confirm that right with paperwork. Some now find it difficult to prove they are legal residents.

The Jamaican Consulate in London is among those demanding the UK find a solution.

Former Jamaican and the Caribbean residents may be at a higher risk because many arrived as youngsters on their parent's passports. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said there were also cases of Australian, Canadian, South African, Indian and Pakistan-born citizens facing deportation, however.

The Home Office said it would handle applications to stay "sensitively".

“They should take legal advice and submit the appropriate application with correct evidence so we can progress the case.”

“We have no intention of making people leave who have the right to remain here. When the Home Office is made aware of cases of this nature, we will make sure the applications are dealt in a sensitive way,” the Home Office said in a statement.

Mr Lammy has invited Windrush immigrants to join him in Parliament on 1 May.

Another MP, Kate Osamor described a situation involving one of her constituents as “barbaric”.

Anthony Bryan, 60, a Jamaican painter who has lived in Britain since he arrived at the age of eight.

He too was also declared an illegal immigrant and sent to a detention centre. His flight back to Jamaica was cancelled after interventions by an immigration lawyer and his MP.

“People are left wondering: how can someone who has done so much for the community be treated like a piece of rubbish? Why send people to detention when they have done nothing wrong?” Ms Osamor said.