Photography via Canva/Creative Commons
As the world closes its borders to the UK, a new review into the Windrush scandal reminds us of how fiercely we’ve restricted movement for the less fortunate on these shores for years under the racist hostile environment project spearheaded by the Tory government.
The Windrush Lesson Learned Review, released yesterday amidst a global pandemic to a sparsely populated House of Commons, opens with a now-familiar reflection on love and loss across the oceans, caused by the repeated failings of successive governments in the UK. Nathaniel, the review explains, was a British citizen who went on holiday with his daughter Veronica to Jamaica in 2001. He was never allowed to re-enter the country he had called his home for 40 years and died in Jamaica, of prostate cancer he couldn’t afford to treat, in 2010.
This story sets an important precedent in a thorough document that reveals quite plainly that the Home Office is an institution fundamentally not fit for purpose, and hasn’t been for a very long time – with the review citing racist legislation stretching back to the 60s, 70s and 80s. It reminds us to humanise the people who have been caught up in the Windrush scandal in the opposite way to how the Home Office dehumanised them. People who, to this day, are fighting to be given the compensation they deserve and, in some instances, are still struggling with their immigration cases. The latest example of this is Gbolagade Ibukun-Oluwa, 59, who uses a wheelchair and has been forced into homelessness, living out his days at Heathrow airport.
All over again, it should make you very, very angry about the treatment of black British citizens in this country, who have come out of this mess even more uncertain of their place in society, and with a new fear around the stability of their community.
Though Wendy Williams, the author of the review and an inspector of constabulary, writes that she was unable to make a “definitive finding of institutional racism” within the Home Office (the government department responsible for handling immigration), this is mainly just semantics. Her language throughout much of the rest of the review is clear. Within the Home Office, there is “an institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation”, she writes in the introduction.
“All over again, the review should make you very, very angry about the treatment of black British citizens in this country, who have come out of this mess even more uncertain of their place in society”
She goes on to turn up evidence that there is a lack of people of colour working in senior leadership roles, that many staff working for the department have “a misconception that racism is confined to decisions made with racist motivations” and states even more unquestionably, that “race clearly played a part in what happened to this generation”. In short, there is a lot to be concerned by and the Home Office has indisputably been found to be the instrument of racism for the state.
The majority of its function is to formalise the brutality, demonisation and removal of those they deem “outsiders”, the shit on the shiny shoe of the white British public. Racism doesn’t have to be intentional to be harmful, and the report proves that up until the scandal kicked off, many of those working within the Home Office didn’t understand the history of the Windrush generation or have a broader understanding of British colonialism. Their ignorance led directly to their mistreatment of a specific ethnic group.
This is in part why there has been an outpouring of anger in the day since the review has been released. Not only did Diane Abbott sternly admonish the government both for delaying the publication, which was supposed to be released last autumn, and for not making the copies of the review widely available, but 15 equality and migrant rights organisations, including the Runnymede Trust and the JCWI, have called for an independent review specifically looking into the extent of institutional racism in the Home Office. They have further questioned whether its immigration policies are in accordance with equality law around racial discrimination.
The deputy director of the Runnymede Trust, Dr Zubaida Haque, said in a statement: “It is now incumbent on this government to not only ‘right the wrongs’ suffered by the Windrush generation (and other ethnic minority groups) as a result of the government’s hostile environment policies, but also to understand how and why Home Office culture, attitudes, immigration and citizenship policies have repeatedly discriminated against black and ethnic minority British citizens.” She added: “Unless the issues around institutional racism are meaningfully addressed, we risk the same mistakes and injustices being repeated.”
While the review has been criticised in some circles for pussyfooting around the definition of institutional racism (according to some sources the phrase was reportedly present in an earlier draft), its recommendations are surprisingly radical for a document produced in conjunction with the government and reference their own need to be carried out with immediacy. Wendy has identified the need for systemic change within the Home Office, for education around colonialism, and, in my opinion most importantly, further scrutiny of its practices at large. While the Windrush generation have been particularly poorly treated, it’s important to remember there is malpractice going on within the Home Office that extends to all sorts of people.
So what can you do to make sure this review doesn’t get shoved under the coronavirus rug?
“While the Windrush generation were particularly poorly treated, it’s important to remember there is malpractice going on within the Home Office that extends to younger generations and to those who aren’t from the Caribbean too”
Firstly, pay attention to the language the Home Office is using. Priti Patel made it very clear yesterday that she wanted the Windrush scandal to be remembered as a failure of “successive” governments, and while this is true, it is the Conservatives who are currently in power and who currently have draconian immigration laws in place via the rebranded hostile environment – the “compliant environment”. The Tories need to take responsibility for their actions and to enact the change Wendy has outlined.
Secondly, support campaign work from those such as Patrick Vernon, who is currently leading on a petition to ensure that the 30 recommendations outlined by the review are implemented by the government. There has also recently been a crowdfund set up for victim Gbolagade Ibukun-Oluwa, who, it is written, needs the money to find somewhere to sleep in central London “while his paperwork is being regularised”.
And thirdly, stay angry. They tried to bury this. They released it at a time when they knew fewer people would be able to find the emotion or energy to care. But we owe it to the Windrush generation, regardless of their (innumerable) contributions to our society, to keep up the fight. Because we should never become jaded about the idea of open borders, nor forget the undeniable truth that the UK should open its arms to as many people as possible who decide they want to make their home here.