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Windrush compensation scheme must reflect huge impact unlawful detention has on lives

The redress scheme which is to be established by the Government to compensate people of the ‘Windrush generation’ who have been unlawfully detained – or even threatened with deportation from the UK – must reflect the huge gravity of this scandal.

It has seen hundreds of British citizens, who moved to the UK from Caribbean countries between the 1940s and the 1970s, subjected to appalling treatment due to the Government’s own failings with regards to its immigration policies and control.

Windrush immigrants (called so in reference to the ship MV Empire Windrush which brought workers from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other islands) came to the UK by invitation as a response to post-war labour shortages.

Although they were given an automatic indefinite right to remain, they were not given any documentation, and their children were not given passports.

Sadly, and quite shockingly, the Home Office failed to keep a record of those granted leave to remain or issue any paperwork confirming it. Now, many Windrush immigrants who arrived as children having travelled on parents’ passports, have found themselves being detained when returning from holidays from the Caribbean.

Others have lost their jobs, some have been refused medical care and even been threatened with deportation.

Innocent people have suffered because of our Government’s position over immigration

The failure of our Government to provide these people with the relevant documentation has made it difficult for any Windrush immigrants to prove they are in the UK legally.

Combined with what has been described as a new ‘hostile’ implementation of the 2014 Immigration Act, put in place when Prime Minister Theresa May was still Home Secretary and which has been blamed for aggressive targeting of Windrush citizens, it has been a recipe for disaster.

There has, of course, been plenty of media coverage around the issue and much has focused on the Government’s handling of the matter.

Over recent days, the story has deepened with reports of thousands of landing card slips recording Windrush immigrants’ arrival dates in the UK being destroyed in 2010 during an office move.

Amber Rudd has resigned from her position as Home Secretary as reports have focused on Government targets for removing illegal immigrants, and she quite rightly admitted the Home Office had ‘become too concerned with policy and strategy – and lost sight of the individual’.

We can’t think of a statement which better sums up this situation, as it is the kind of approach, across almost all the agencies and public bodies, which leads to innocent people suffering harm and turning to us for legal advice.

Theresa May has said she is ‘genuinely sorry’ about the anxiety caused by threatening the children of Commonwealth citizens with deportation.

From our work in supporting people in claims of unlawful detention and breaches of Human Rights, we always see it from the side of the victim, knowing the huge impact such a situation can have on the lives of those affected, and their families.

Although this is a story about politics, it is very much more an issue around people.

It is about protecting rights we have to many things we take for granted, but should never have threatened as law abiding people, such as our freedom and liberty, and our rights to access healthcare, employment, and education.

There can be no doubt that those affected by this will have suffered greatly from a truly frightening and stressful experience, which has been entirely avoidable.

Under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) 1950, the law states that no person shall be deprived of their liberty, except in certain limited circumstances, where detention is legal, and that where unlawful detention is alleged, a claim can be brought against the Home Office for the detention.

Given the admissions made, and the fact there are around 500,000 people now resident in the UK who were born in a Commonwealth country and arrived before 1971, including Windrush immigrants, the Government must be concerned over the scale of cases it could now face as this investigation unfolds.

These people must be significantly compensated for what has happened to them. It is simply an unacceptable situation.

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