NEWS
25/04/2018 14:36 BST | Updated 26/04/2018 13:08 BST

7 Questions Amber Rudd Still Needs To Answer Over The Windrush Scandal

The Home Office errors have been described as 'cruellest examples of state power targeting the vulnerable'.

The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, is fighting for her political life over the Windrush scandal, described by the Labour party as one of the “cruellest examples of unaccountable state power targeting the vulnerable”.

The scandal has revealed that thousands of Commonwealth citizens 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.

Rudd appeared before the Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday and answered questions from MPs on her handling of the issue. During the session, she denied that the Home Office had targets for deportation.

On Wednesday, documents published by the BBC and Sky News revealed the Home Office did in fact have quotas, and Rudd is now facing calls to resign. 

The scandal centres on people who arrived in the UK before 1973 and were automatically granted indefinite leave to remain. However, the Home Office did not keep a record of those allowed to stay, or any documentation confirming their status.

While many of those who arrived have taken up British citizenship, others have struggled to source paperwork demonstrating they are lawfully resident.

Earlier this month Barbados High Commissioner, Guy Hewitt, explained how victims were being “shut out of the system”.

“Because they came from colonies which were not independent, they thought they were British subjects. They thought that there was no need for them to regularise their status,” he said. “And 40, 50 years on are being told by the Home Office not that they are just anomalies, but they are illegal immigrants.”

As the scandal rumbles on, here are the key questions Rudd still needs to answer. 

When did the Home Office first become aware of the problem? 

Since November, The Guardian newspaper has reported a steadily increasing number of cases of Windrush Britons being threatened with deportation, beginning with the case of Paulette Wilson who, despite living in the UK for over 50 years, was being held in the Yarls Wood detention centre.

The issue came to a head this month, when Labour MP David Lammy took up the case and presented the issue in parliament. 

Both Rudd and the Prime Minister, Theresa May, have said they were unaware of the extent of the problem, despite The Guardian’s coverage.

But the issue predates the Guardian’s report: an investigation published in 2014 by the charity, Legal Action Group, highlighted the plight of thousands of long-term UK residents who were unable to prove their immigration status, or had “irregular” status.

The research was carried out in the wake of the then-Home Secretary’s Immigration Act, which came with a pledge to make Britain a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants.

Although it did not mention the Windrush generation by name, the report referred to migrants who came to the UK from the Caribbean in the same era.

It warned of “a virtually invisible – and rarely acknowledged – group, who can’t easily prove their legal status (because of lost documents or poor government record-keeping) or whose status is ‘irregular’ for a variety of legitimate reasons.

“And far from being ‘difficult for the government to reach them through tough laws’, this group is being badly hit by legislation aimed at cracking down on illegal migrants.”

In response to the current fiasco, the Home Office issued statements in response to individual cases raised by The Guardian saying those affected should seek legal advice. 

Is this the result of the ‘hostile environment’ policy instigated under Theresa May?

Memorable for the “Go Home” vans, the Tories’ 2014 “hostile environment” policy has come under focus as being a major cause of the scandal.

The campaign featured large posters targeting people in the UK illegally telling them to “go home or face arrest” which some former minister’s described as “reminiscent of Nazi Germany”.

PA
The campaign was swiftly scrapped.

But Rudd has shifted blame away from the Conservatives, and has said “successive governments” introduced measures to combat illegal immigration since the 1980s.

She said earlier this week: “I’m personally committed to tackling illegal migration because I have seen in this job the terrible impact has on some of the most vulnerable in our society.

Labour MPs have even gone so far as to suggest May could be accused of “institutionalised racism”.

MP Dawn Butler told Sky News: “She is presiding over legislation … discriminating against a whole group of people who came from the Commonwealth, who suffered racism when they came over – the ‘no blacks, no Irish, no dogs’ – and now they are having to relive that trauma all over again because of Theresa May.”

How many people have been threatened? 

Some 286 people have so far contacted a Home Office helpline set up to offer support for members of the Windrush generation with concerns about their migration status.

So far, some eight people whose cases have been handed to a dedicated team of officials have been given permanent residence status since the scandal broke.

But victims are still coming forward. Gretel Gocan, 81, told 5 News last week she has been stuck in Jamaica since 2010, unable to return to her south London home after taking a holiday to visit family.

Speaking to the news programme, Gocan’s daughter, Pauline Blackwood, said her mother had been stranded with no money and no pension.

The 81-year-old’s story is similar to many of those which have emerged in the last few weeks. Gocan said she came to the UK in 1960 and never applied for a British passport, but had a stamp in her Jamaican passport granting her indefinite leave to remain.

That document was stolen in 2006 and when she went to Jamaica on a new passport in 2010 she found herself refused permission to return to the UK and told she needed a visa, she said.

The Home Office has claimed it didn’t have figures relating to the number of people affected but the Government has been accused of destroying thousands of landing cards of Commonwealth citizens, which could have helped confirm their immigration status.

Will the government ensure this doesn’t happen to other legal residents? 

The scandal has caused growing concern that a similar situation could arise as a result of the Brexit negotiations, as the UK faces the task of confirming the status of millions of EU citizens.

Politicians in Brussels are clearly watching the unfolding row: the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt told the Telegraph newspaper: “This could be worrying for millions of EU citizens in the UK who may fear that they could face similar treatment after Brexit.

“The Home Office has agreed to come to the European Parliament to explain their proposed registration system for EU nationals and I expect MEPs will rightly want safeguards.”

On Tuesday, The Times newspaper reported the case of a Polish world war two veteran refused a British passport – despite living in the UK for 67 years since fleeing the Nazi regime.

Has anyone been wrongfully deported?

A major exercise has been launched by ministers to check whether anyone has been wrongly deported as a result of the scandal.

So far 4,200 records have been reviewed out of nearly 8,000 dating back to 2002, with none identified as breaching protections given under the Immigration Act of 1971.

A dedicated Home Office Windrush team has successfully resolved nine cases and made 84 appointments to issue documents.

Is the government going to compensate victims? 

Theresa May has announced the government is to make compensation payments to members of the Windrush generation who suffered as a result of official challenges to their status.

Downing Street declined to give details of the compensation scheme, saying only they would be announced “shortly” by the Home Office.

It is thought that payments will go beyond the reimbursement of legal bills and include a recognition of the anxiety caused to long-standing Commonwealth residents.

As well as waiving fees of £1,330 for UK citizenship applications, ministers have said those seeking naturalisation will be exempt from a requirement to pass English language and knowledge of life in the UK tests.

The offer is open to members of the Windrush generation from all Commonwealth countries, not just Caribbean nationals.

It applies regardless of whether or not someone has paperwork showing their right to be in the country.

Is there going to be a change in policy?

Nothing has been announced so far. However, the huge backlash and debate surrounding the scandal and some MPs have already said they will be attending a demonstration at Parliament on 30th April.