Amid the buzz of Brixton’s busy streets on a sunny Tuesday morning, it would be easy to assume that locals have yet to be affected by the Windrush Generation scandal – branded on Monday by one MP as a “day of national shame”.
Here, there are no signs, no placards, no protestors – people continue to rush for the bus, run errands, and stock up on supplies at the borough’s historic indoor food market.
But beneath the lively veneer, the mood is tense. At the heart of London’s Afro-Caribbean community – just moments from Windrush Square, named in honour of the men and women who arrived in the UK in the 1950s and 60s at the invitation of the British government – the threat of the deportation controversy is keenly felt.
The scandal erupted after many people of the “Windrush Generation”, brought to the UK as children, spoke out after being targeted by the Home Office, which has been treating those without certain documentation as illegal immigrants, and in some cases, threatening them with deportation.
The Prime Minister was on Tuesday forced to apologise to Caribbean leaders over the situation, as questions mounted over whether the Home Office has a grip on the unfolding scandal.
Sorry is the easiest thing for the government to say Brian Gee
On Monday, immigration minister Caroline Nokes appeared to confirm that some Windrush workers had been wrongly deported, saying there had been some “horrendous situations”, but she was unable to give clear figures.
According to Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, Whitehall staff are now urgently checking records to make sure nothing had “gone appallingly wrong in that way”.
On the streets of Brixton, almost everyone who stopped to speak about the unfolding debate had someone – a mother, a grandfather, an uncle – who travelled to the UK from countries such as Jamaica, to answer the government’s call for essential workers in the wake of world war two.
For them, the government’s sudden political U-turn on Tuesday doesn’t change the sudden feeling of being unwelcome.
“Sorry is the easiest thing [for the government] to say,” Brian Gee, whose mother arrived in the UK from Jamaica in the 1950s, said. “What about all the people who have been split up from their families, who have been here all their lives?”
“Shame on the British government if they have been deporting people,” he said. “The Windrush Generation are getting old. The last thing they need to be worrying about is being deported, or not being legal in this country so they don’t get the right healthcare or benefits.”
Speaking on Tuesday, many people in Brixton – many the children and grandchildren of Windrush Britons – said the government must compensate the people who have been incorrectly targeted for possible deportation by the Home Office.
“I just hope Theresa May and the British government can come to something where the people who have been deported can either come back and continue living here or are given some kind of compensation,” Gee said.
Roy Shaw, who arrived in the UK from the Caribbean with his father when he was “four or five”, agreed that May’s U-turn was “too little, too late”.
It would be “heartbreaking” if he was forced to return to Jamaica, Shaw said. “It would be difficult to settle because you actually lose your roots there.”
Shaw said his father would be “very surprised” by the current situation, “knowing that he made a lot of contributions to this country”.
Topaz Davis said her great-grandmother, who arrived in the UK as a nurse in 1962, was “really angry” about the situation.
Ike Nweke said Windrush immigrants should be considered “part and parcel of the family of the UK” after living here for so long. “The immigrants are not building up their own country. They are building up this country and paying their taxes here,” he said.
On Tuesday, Labour MP David Lammy announced that he had been made aware of the case of Mozi Haynes – a Windrush Generation Brit due to be deported on Wednesday due to a lack of paperwork.
Haynes’ mother told the Tottenham MP she felt like a “second class citizen” in her own country thanks to the treatment of her son. “I am unwell and almost 75, I live on my own and I need my son to stay here,” Ruth Williams said.
“I need my family around me and I can’t face being alone. He has applied to the Home Office and been refused twice.”