Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday said the “Windrush generation”, people from the Caribbean who came to Britain as children after World War II, were British and her government would not tell them to leave the country.
The Windrush generation were invited to Britain to plug labour shortfalls between 1948 and 1971 but some of their descendants have been caught up in a tightening of immigration rules overseen by May in 2012 when she was interior minister.
“These people are British, they are part of us,” May told parliament, repeating her apology to 12 Caribbean nations she made on Tuesday. “I want to say sorry to anyone who has had confusion or anxiety felt as a result of this.”
May, a former interior minister, told parliament the government was doing all it could to help those people who had been wrongly labelled illegal immigrants.
The opposition Labour Party demanded to know whether she was in charge when migrants’ identity documents were destroyed by the Home Office (interior ministry), but yesterday May told parliament that it had happened in 2009 when the opposition Labour Party was in government.
“What the prime minister said was that the decision was taken in 2009 when there was a Labour government,” her spokesman told reporters, adding that it had been an operational decision by the UK Border Agency.
He also said EU citizens had nothing to fear about their rights after Brexit after the Windrush affair.
“Very strong guarantees have been given to EU citizens..,” he added.
Meanwhile, Home Office claims that the destruction of Windrush-era landing cards in 2010 had no impact on the rights of those individuals to stay in the UK have been dramatically undermined by the evidence of two new whistleblowers.
Staff, in fact, routinely used landing card information as part of their decision-making process, and saw the Windrush landing cards as a useful resource, according to information from two new Home Office whistleblowers.
Their accounts have been further supported by the emergence of Border Force guidance, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, that appears to contradict the government’s justification of a decision to destroy an archive of Windrush-era arrival slips.
The Border Force note appears to undermine the Home Office and Downing Street’s rejection of the documents’ significance. Giving details of how landing cards are used currently, the document stated: “Information from a landing card may be used by an entry clearance officer in making a decision on a visa application.”
A now-retired senior Croydon-based Home Office employee told the Guardian she had regularly used landing card information in decision-making work during the 1980s.
“Landing and embarkation cards were kept in alphabetical order, and by month,” she said, adding that it was a very important database because “it would show who else arrived with you; it would show the parents and the children that they brought with them”.
Former Home Office employees and immigration case workers have also expressed deep concern about a shift in the way officials have been handling undocumented Commonwealth residents, following tightened immigration regulations, with one describing a new “gotcha attitude” among staff, who enjoyed catching out applicants.
Both Downing Street and the Home Office attempted to play down the significance of the revelation in the Guardian on Tuesday that an archive of landing slips documenting Windrush era arrivals had been destroyed in 2010.
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