The Prime Minister told Caribbean leaders that she is “genuinely sorry” about the anxiety caused by a recent tightening of the immigration system
UK’s May apologises over treatment of ‘Windrush’ migrants
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May has apologised to Caribbean countries over the treatment of the so-called “Windrush” generation, after reports of law-abiding residents being threatened with deportation overshadowed a London meeting of leaders from the 53-nation Commonwealth.
Windrush migrants, whose parents were invited to Britain to plug labour shortfalls after World War Two, have been caught up in a tightening of immigration rules overseen by Mrs May in 2012 when she was interior minister.
“I take this issue very seriously. The home secretary apologised in the House of Commons yesterday for any anxiety caused. And I want to apologise to you today,” Mrs May told representatives from 12 Caribbean countries at Downing Street on Tuesday. “We are genuinely sorry for any anxiety that has been caused.”
The Prime Minister assured the leaders and diplomats that there will be no deportations or detentions of Windrush migrants while the immigration process is being addressed.
"Those who arrived from the Caribbean before 1973 and lived here permanently without significant periods of time away in the last 30 years have the right to remain in the UK,” she said.
"As do the vast majority of long-term residents who arrived later, and I don't want anybody to be in any doubt about their right to remain here in the United Kingdom."
Mrs May insisted that her government was not “clamping down” on Commonwealth citizens, particularly people from the Caribbean. She also expressed her gratitude to Windrush migrants, saying that she “valued” the contribution that they had made.
Andrew Holness, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, responded by telling Mrs May that he hoped to see a swift implementation of her proposed solution. He added that it was only right that those migrants who had contributed to Britain should be permitted to stay in the country, as citizens.
The Prime Minister had initially turned down a request from 12 Caribbean countries for the matter to be discussed at this week’s Commonwealth summit.
However, faced with a growing outcry which threatened to overshadow the biennial gathering of the alliance of the UK and its former colonies, Downing Street said on Monday that Mrs May would after all meet with her counterparts from Caribbean states to discuss the matter. The u-turn came after a letter signed by 140 MPs demanded a change of heart.
On Monday afternoon, home secretary Amber Rudd confirmed she will set up a new task force to ensure that those affected will get a "swift response" when they approach the Home Office for help in getting the paperwork they need. She added that the fees involved would be waived.
Ms Rudd also apologised for the "appalling" treatment of some Windrush migrants.
Cabinet minister David Lidington said on Tuesday that the government knew of no cases where members of the Windrush generation have been deported due to their lack of documentation.
"We have no information, we do not know of any cases where somebody has been deported who is in this category," Mr Lidington told the BBC, but added officials were checking records to make sure nothing had "gone appallingly wrong in that way".
However, Labour MP David Lammy, who had tabled the urgent question on the issue in Parliament on Monday, said on Twitter that he knew of a man who is set to be deported on Wednesday.
On Monday, Mr Lammy branded it a "day of national shame" and pointed the finger of blame at the Home Office, under Mrs May, which he said had created a "hostile environment" for immigrants.
The Migration Observatory at Oxford University told The National that up to 57,000 of the half-million people who moved to the UK before the 1971 Immigration Act came into law could be at risk of being removed from the country. That act enshrined the right for Commonwealth citizens to have indefinite leave to remain in Britain – but those who had come over before that date often do not now have the paperwork to prove that they were legally allowed to live in the country.
They are named after the Windrush, one of the first ships that brought Caribbean migrants to the UK in 1948 in the aftermath of the Second World War.
Many of the residents have been told they need evidence including passports to continue working or getting health treatment despite living, working and paying tax in Britain for decades.
The dispute is an unwelcome distraction for Britain, which hopes to use the biennial Commonwealth summit to bolster its bid for free trade deals around the world after the UK leaves the European Union next year.