Commonwealth citizens were wrongly detained and deported under a government policy designed to curb illegal immigration
Windrush scandal: Britain’s Home Office criticised in damning report
Britain’s interior ministry failed to consider how its “hostile environment” policy might affect members of the Windrush generation leading to wrongful detentions and deportations, an independent report has concluded.
The National Audit Office accused the government department, known as the Home Office, of a “lack of curiosity” in its investigation into who had been affected by the policy by focusing only on people from 12 Caribbean countries.
The Windrush generation, children of migrants brought over after the Second World War to plug labour shortages, were caught up in a tightening of immigration rules introduced in 2012.
Although they had the right to remain in Britain indefinitely, having arrived before 1973, many of those who arrived in the 1950s and 1960s had travelled on their parents’ passports and had never applied for any travel documents themselves. Landing cards, which proved the date migrants arrived in the UK, were destroyed by the Home Office in 2010.
A change to immigration law designed to root out illegal immigrants meant that those without documents had to prove they had the right to continue working, accessing services and living in Britain.
When the Windrush scandal broke earlier this year, reports emerged of Commonwealth citizens who had lived and worked for most of their lives in Britain losing jobs, being denied access to medical care and even being deported.
“The treatment of people who had a legitimate right to remain in the UK, raises grave questions about how the Home Office discharged its duty of care towards people who were made vulnerable because of lack of documentation,” said Sir Amyas Morse, head of the NAO.
“It failed to protect their rights to live, work and access services in the UK, and many have suffered distress and material loss as a result. This was both predictable and forewarned.”
The scandal led to the resignation of Home Secretary Amber Rudd in April.
Her replacement Sajid Javid has apologised to 18 members of the Windrush generation who may have been wrongly detained or removed following a department review of 11,800 cases of removal and detention.
But the NAO said the review had been narrow in its scope in identifying Commonwealth citizens from outside the Caribbean who might have been affected.
“The department is taking steps to put things right for the Caribbean community, but it has shown a surprising lack of urgency to identify other groups that may have been affected,” said Sir Amyas added.
The NAO said the Home Office must be more proactive in identifying vulnerable people across the immigration system.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The home secretary has issued a profound apology to the Windrush generation for the experiences they have faced. Our task force has taken thousands of phone calls and helped over 2,400 people of any nationality prove their status in the UK.
“The majority of those helped by the task force are of Caribbean origin, but we have always been clear that it accepts applications under the Windrush scheme from people of any nationality who arrived in the UK before 31 December 1988 and are settled here.”