The row about the immigration problems faced by the so-called "Windrush generation" has deepened, as it emerged that the British government has turned down a request from 12 Caribbean countries for the issue to be discussed at this week's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London.
"We did make a request to the CHOGM summit team for a meeting to be held between the prime minister and the Commonwealth Caribbean heads of government who will be here for the CHOGM, and regrettably they have advised us that that is not possible," Guy Hewitt, the Barbados high commissioner, told The Guardian.
Downing Street said that no meeting had been scheduled, but said that there would be “a number of opportunities” for Commonwealth leaders to meet Prime Minister Theresa May and discuss this “important issue”. Seth George Ramocan, the Jamaican high commissioner, said: “We have senior citizens in limbo. It is not explicitly on the agenda, but we want our heads of government to bring it to the attention of the wider body.”
As previously reported by The National, changes to the British immigration system has meant that tens of thousands of people who moved to the country between 1948 and 1971 could be deemed to be illegally resident in the country and may even face deportation to their "home" nations – some of which the people have not returned to since they made their homes in Britain.
They are named after the Windrush, one of the first ships that brought Caribbean migrants to the United Kingdom in 1948 in the aftermath of the Second World War, when labour shortages in the country meant that people from the Commonwealth were invite to help rebuild the shattered economy. Although many of those affected are from the 172,000 West Indians who came to Britain by 1962, there are also Australian, Canadian, South African, Indian and Pakistan-born citizens facing deportation.
The Migration Observatory at Oxford University told The National that up to 57,000 of the half-million people who moved to the UK before the 1971 Immigration Act came into law could be at risk of being removed from the country. That act enshrined the right for Commonwealth citizens to have indefinite leave to remain in Britain – but those who had come over before that date often do not now have the paperwork to prove that they were legally allowed to live there.
This has meant that people who are now either pensioners or are approaching that age, and who have spent their working lives paying taxes in the UK and often working in public services such as the National Health Service or in the general infrastructure of the country, raising children who are legally resident, are now facing uncertainty.
Some have even had their access to British public services withdrawn – a man of Caribbean origin known as ‘Albert Thompson’, has been told he was not eligible for radiotherapy for cancer on the NHS because he couldn’t prove he was legally in the UK.
The changes to the immigration rules could be a major headache for Mrs May, because it was under her stewardship of the Home Office, the British government department that oversees the immigration system, that the decision was taken to make the UK a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants.
An online petition which is calling for an “amnesty for anyone who was a minor that arrived In Britain between 1948 to 1971” has surged past the 100,000 signature mark in just six days, which guarantees that the issue will be debated by Parliament. Patrick Vernon, who started the petition, called the move against Commonwealth citizens a “slap in the face” and “an historic injustice”.
“This has created uncertainty and lack of clarity and justice for tens of thousands of individuals who have worked hard, paid their taxes and raised children and grandchildren and who see Britain as their home.”
Almost every British political party, from the Greens to UKIP, have opposed the move, which has also united such disparate voices as The Guardian and The Daily Mail.