MPs from across the political spectrum are calling on Theresa May to voice their anger that scores of Commonwealth-born, long-term British residents were incorrectly deemed illegal immigrants.
Thousands who answered the post-World War II call to come to the UK to work in essential services are being denied access to state healthcare, losing their jobs and even being threatened with deportation.
The letter to the Prime Minister, signed by 140 MPs and coordinated by Labour’s David Lammy, was sent after Downing Street rejected a formal diplomatic request to discuss Commonwealth nations’ fears.
MPs are calling for immediate guarantee of the status of all Commonwealth nationals and an “effective, humane” clarification of their immigration status.
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, meanwhile, appeared to hint a u-turn could be on the cards, saying he was “deeply concerned” and that “the government is looking into this urgently”.
The issue threatens to cause a diplomatic incident as Commonwealth heads of government prepare to meet in London this week.
The 140 MPs hail from six parties (Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cymru, Green).
The letter is backed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee Yvette Cooper and senior Conservative MPs Sarah Wollaston, Peter Bottomley and Bob Blackman. It also has the support of arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg.
David Lammy, chair of the Race and Community All Party Parliamentary Group, said: “What is going on is grotesque, immoral and inhumane. It is a stain on our nation’s conscience and the Prime Minister must act urgently to right this historic wrong.
“After World War II we invited the Windrush Generation over as citizens to help rebuild our country, and now their children are being treated like criminals.
“The government is essentially stripping people of the rights that our government itself granted decades ago. These individuals have done nothing wrong and there is no basis upon which the Home Office can justify what they are doing. Some of the cases that have caught the public’s attention are truly heart-breaking. These individuals have lived in this country for decades – working hard, paying taxes, raising their families and contributing so much to our country.
“The Home Office is treating these individuals like criminals whenever they come into contact with the state and this situation has left thousands of people too scared and anxious to seek to clarify their own status for fear that they will be stripped of their status or deported back to a country that they have no memory of and is certainly not their home. Their home is here.”
Arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg threw his weight behind the letter during an interview on LBC.
He said he “completely supports” Lammy’s letter, adding: “It’s absolutely dreadful. These people are as British as you and I are.”
He added: “I think it’s a deep disgrace and it should be the top priority of the government to sort it out. It’s such a bad way of treating people, it puts bureaucratic rules ahead of people’s lives, and I think it’s shameful.”
The letter states that:
Individuals being denied access to healthcare is “a cruel twist of fate” given that after WWII our government sent out a call to the Commonwealth and thousands of Caribbean migrants came to Britain to staff our National Health Service
The Prime Minister must meet with Commonwealth nationals, their lawyers and groups supporting the representatives of 12 Caribbean countries to discuss why the formal diplomatic request was rejected.
A petition calling for an amnesty, a change in the burden of proof and compensation for those affected has gained over 126,465 signatures in a week. The petition will therefore be considered for a debate in Parliament, however the MPs are calling on the Prime Minister to “ensure that this is addressed with the utmost urgency in advance of any such debate”.
Sally Daghlian OBE, CEO, Praxis, said: “Praxis sees at first hand the devastating effect of these policies on people’s lives and the Herculean task of trying to meet the evidence requirements of the Home Office to prove long standing residence. The government must create a fast, fair and free system to protect and help people in this situation. “
Satbir Singh, Chief Executive, JCWI, said: “The plight of the Windrush generation is neither an accident nor an anomaly. It is a shocking example of how lives are ruined every day by the callousness and carelessness of the Home Office. The Government must now guarantee that those who come forward to seek assistance will not be subject to the loss of their rights.”
Dr Omar Khan, Director, Runnymede Trust, said: “Runnymede is shocked and surprised that long-standing Caribbean residents are being treated so inhumanely and unjustly after they have contributed so much to Britain.
“It can’t be right that 50 years after Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech that Commonwealth residents are being threatened with deportation and having their rights and Britishness questioned.
“We call on the government to act humanely and swiftly, to support rather than harass these long-standing migrants, many of whom are British citizens, in providing the documentation the Home Office has only recently and retrospectively decided they need.”