In the summer of 1948, the ship Empire Windrush, carrying 492 passengers from the Caribbean, arrived on England's shores. Its passengers were not subject to immigration restrictions; since their homelands were still part of the shrinking British empire, they were regarded as citizens in law and invited to help fill labour shortages in Britain after the Second World War. Seven decades on, instead of gratitude for their services, the Windrush generation and their descendants have been subjected to what can only be described as a reign of bureaucratic terror with a decidedly racist flavour. As Home Secretary in 2012, British Prime Minister Theresa May orchestrated a campaign to create a "really hostile environment" for so-called illegal migrants – among them the children of the Windrush generation – who were required to prove their legal status for such rudimentary rituals of life as renting a house, opening a bank account and visiting a doctor. Operating a "deport first, appeal later" policy, Mrs May dispatched vans into diverse communities with billboards on either side bearing the message "go home".
The upshot was that elderly members of the Windrush generation and their children were picked up, detained or deported. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary under whose watch the Windrush scandal erupted, resigned yesterday. But the architect of the policy, Mrs May, remains in office. In a bid to outdo the far right on immigration, Mrs May steered her party to the extreme right in this endeavour, ruined the lives of innocent people and heaped shame on her country.
Britain is largely a multicultural and multi-ethnic nation. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is a Muslim, as is Sajid Javid, Ms Rudd's replacement as Home Secretary. Yet this openness is always at risk of naked malice towards minorities, especially Muslims in recent years, radiated by those in power. Muslim refugees fleeing persecution are least welcome in the UK while Muslim citizens and residents from South Asia and the Middle East, despite their immense contributions, are no strangers to the kind of hostile environment Mrs May encouraged. The anti-immigrant face of hatred currently looms large in the West. A caravan of migrants from Central America is stuck on the US-Mexico border, barred from even making their case for asylum in a country founded by migrants. The Windrush scandal represents a rare occasion that a senior politician has been held to account for the treatment of migrants but it cannot be seen in isolation. It is symbolic of the poisonous vitriol and hatred which is so often expressed and rarely questioned or challenged. There are no winners in this tragic case, only a sad indictment of the bigotry still so prevalent in society today.