Today is National Windrush Day, marking the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the passengers of the Empire Windrush to the UK, and celebrating the contribution and achievements of those Caribbean immigrants and many others who followed.
As UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea says in her blog today, if Windrush hadn’t docked at Tilbury, the country wouldn’t also be celebrating the NHS’s 75th birthday this year, because many of the Windrush generation went straight to work in the health service.
But the anniversary comes amid continued controversy over the government’s mistreatment of the Windrush generation.
UNISON is currently working with other parties in a legal challenge against the home secretary, over her decision to abandon three of the recommendations made by the Windrush Lessons Learned Review.
Conducted by Wendy Williams, the review concluded that the Home Office had shown “ignorance and thoughtlessness” on race throughout the Windrush scandal, which came to light in 2018, when it was revealed that members of the Windrush generation were being declared immigration offenders, and were denied access to public services, housing and jobs.
At least 83 people were wrongly deported despite having the right to live and work in the UK.
The review found that immigration regulations were tightened “with complete disregard for the Windrush generation” and officials had made “irrational” demands for multiple documents to establish residency rights.
Ms Williams made 30 recommendations to avoid a repeat of the scandal, and the then-home secretary Priti Patel confirmed an action plan to implement them.
Key amongst these recommendations was a commitment to create the post of a migrants’ commissioner, who would be responsible for speaking up for migrants and identifying systemic problems within the UK immigration system.
However, in January this year the current home secretary, Suella Braverman, decided to abandon the commitment to the commissioner role, together with the pledges to strengthen the powers of the immigration watchdog and to run reconciliation events with Windrush families.
UNISON believes that both the migrants’ commissioner and a strengthened watchdog would help to protect against a future ‘Windrush scandal’, allowing for greater protections for migrant workers and act as a break on yet more inhumane policies towards refugees.
The union is hoping for a judicial review of the home secretary’s actions, to which end it is currently working alongside a civil rights group and a private individual (not a UNISON member). All parties are currently waiting to hear from the courts, as to whether they can proceed.
If so, the union’s legal team will argue that UNISON has campaigned heavily against the government on this issue; that it has members who have suffered; and that the removal of the promises made by government will also impact detrimentally on its migrant members.
UNISON head of legal Shantha David said today: “A number of the Windrush generation found out, almost overnight, that they had lost their right to live in the UK. They’d lost their homes, their families, their status and their sense of belonging.
“The Lessons Learned Review went somewhere towards acknowledging the appalling treatment towards them. However, the home secretary’s refusal to carry out these three of the review’s crucial recommendations is devastating for those involved.
“This is why UNISON is determined to mount a legal challenge”.
UNISON policy officer Narmada Thiranagama added: “UNISON is committed to fighting for justice for members affected by the Windrush scandal and the hostile environment.
“Whether it’s in the workplace, in Parliament or in the courts, we are determined to tackle racism and win better treatment for migrant workers in this country.”