Home Secretary Amber Rudd has been forced to apologise after the government admitted it may have wrongly deported people from the so-called Windrush generation who have lived in the UK legally for decades.
Ms Rudd told the House of Commons she was sorry for the “appalling” way her department had treated British subjects who came to the UK in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, predominantly from the Caribbean.
Several cases have emerged of Windrush immigrants and their British-born children being denied medical care, losing jobs, or being threatened with deportation after being unable to prove they have a right to live in the UK.
Paulette Wilson, a 61 year-old cook who worked in the kitchens at the House of Commons, was held at Yarl’s Wood immigration centre for a week in October and was only saved from deportation after her MP intervened.
In an urgent question to the Home Secretary in the Commons, Labour MP David Lammy said it was a “national day of shame”.
Named after the vessel that brought the first group of immigrants from the Caribbean to rebuilt post-war Britain in 1948, many of the Windrush generation arrived believing their rights were guaranteed for life, and never applied for a passport or other documentation confirming their residency rights.
Facing embarrassment on the eve of a Commonwealth summit in London, Downing Street was forced into an u-turn, promising that Theresa May would meet representatives of Caribbean nations today to hear their concerns. A request for a meeting was reportedly refused at the weekend, although Downing Street said the Prime Minister had not been made aware of the approach.
Number 10 said Prime Minister Theresa May wanted to ensure that “no-one with the right to be here will be made to leave”.
Amid growing concern about the government’s ‘hostile environment’ strategy to counter illegal immigration, Ms Rudd revealed she was “concerned that the Home Office has become too concerned with policy and strategy, and sometimes lose sight of the individual”.
The Home Secretary announced the creation of a new taskforce in the Home Office to speed up the regularisation of the immigration status of people who arrived in the UK as long ago as the 1940s.
“This is about individuals, and we have seen the individual stories, and they have been, some of them, terrible to hear, and that is why I have acted,” Ms Rudd said.
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid had said he was “deeply concerned” at the treatment of people who were “long-standing pillars of our community”. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson also posted on twitter backing calls for action.
After immigration minister Caroline Nokes said some individuals may already have been deported in error, Ms Rudd told MPs she was not aware of “any specific cases”. A 2014 report by the Legal Action Group charity suggested the number of long-term legal immigrants affected could run into the “low 10,000s”.
Legislation introduced in 2006 requires employers to check the immigration status of applicants, while a 2014 law requires similar checks to access NHS services and to rent accommodation.