Theresa May apologises to Caribbean leaders over treatment of immigrants

Members of ‘Windrush generation’ threatened with deportation

 Jamaican prime minister  Andrew Holness (centre) speaks to the media in Downing Street surrounded by other representatives of Commonwealth countries following a meeting with British prime minister Theresa May. Photograph:  Getty Images

Jamaican prime minister Andrew Holness (centre) speaks to the media in Downing Street surrounded by other representatives of Commonwealth countries following a meeting with British prime minister Theresa May. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Theresa May has apologised to Caribbean leaders for her government’s treatment of immigrants from their countries who were threatened with deportation after living legally in Britain for decades.

She told the leaders of 12 Caribbean countries that she wanted to assure them Britain was in no sense “clamping down” on immigrants from Commonwealth countries, including theirs.

“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. Because we are genuinely sorry for any anxiety that has been caused,” she said.

“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, as do the vast majority of long-term residents who arrived later. I don’t want anybody to be in any doubt about their right to remain here in the United Kingdom. ”

The prime minister’s apology came after it emerged that members of the so-called “Windrush generation” who came to Britain as children in the 1950s and 1960s had been threatened with deportation when they were unable to provide documentation proving that they had a right to live in the country.

Such immigrants required no documentation when they arrived and in the early 1970s, the government said that all Commonwealth citizens already resident in Britain had indefinite leave to remain.

‘Hostile environment’

In 2012, when Ms May was home secretary, she introduced measures designed to create what she called a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants. This required landlords, banks, providers of public services and state agencies to demand proof of a legal right to live in Britain from anyone accessing services.

Many of those from the Windrush generation, named after the vessel which carried the first post-war immigrants from the Caribbean in 1948, never sought official documents confirming their status.

The home office has been demanding four separate pieces of documentation for each year that they have been resident in Britain, along with large administrative fees.

The prime minister promised to compensate anyone left out of pocket after it emerged that some of those affected had lost their jobs and benefit entitlements, and others had had to pay for legal advice to avoid deportation. 

Jamaican prime minister Andrew Holness said he accepted Ms May’s apology but that she had been unable to say definitively that nobody who had a right to live in Britain had been deported.

“We would like to encourage the UK government to use records at its disposal such as school, health, and tax records and that there be a presumption of legal residence on the part of the Windrush generation while their cases are being reviewed and that these individuals continue to benefit from access to medical care, employment, and other services,” he said.

The home office confirmed on Tuesday that it had destroyed thousands of landing card slips recording Windrush immigrants’ arrival dates which could have helped to identify those with indefinite leave to remain in Britain.