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Windrush Day 2023: Commemorating 75 Years since the Arrival of HMT Empire Windrush

Windrush Day, first established four years ago, is an annual event commemorating the anniversary of the arrival of passenger liner HMT Empire Windrush in Britain on 22 June 1948. This June marks 75 years since that arrival and represents a time to both celebrate the Windrush Generation and acknowledge the enormous injustices they face, past and present.

Charles Russell Speechlys is honoured to be a part of the Windrush Legal Initiative, working in collaboration with the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU) and seven law firms (Taylor Wessing, Latham & Watkins, Dechert, Linklaters, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, Debevoise and White & Case) to assist those impacted by the Windrush Scandal.

The Windrush Generation refers to immigrants from the Commonwealth that arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1973 to take up jobs in the emerging NHS and other sectors suffering as a result of Britain’s post-war labour shortage.

The 1948 British Nationality Act deemed those born in the UK and those born in the colonies had the same rights, therefore when immigrants arrived from the Commonwealth between 1948 and 1973, they had the right to work and live indefinitely in the country. Their settled status was reaffirmed by the 1971 Immigration Act.

However, this security was upended in 2012, when then-Home Secretary Theresa May introduced the “Hostile Environment” policies that compelled doctors, landlords, police officers and teachers to investigate people’s immigration status in an attempt to identify, report and expel those in the country without correct documentation.

The Windrush Generation, although granted settlement in 1971, had been given no documentation to demonstrate their status. For some, their only piece of evidence of their right to be in the UK was their landing card from when they first arrived. And yet, even this was of no use as in 2010 it was uncovered that a large number of them had been destroyed.

When these new policies were introduced many struggled to provide the requisite documentation and faced wrongful detention, deportation and denial of their rights. The scandal broke in 2018, when increased coverage of these individuals’ stories began to shine a light on the experiences of the Windrush Generation.

After mounting pressure, then-PM Theresa May apologised for the government’s role in the Windrush Scandal, and in April 2019, the Windrush Compensation Scheme was created, in an effort to make reparations to those impacted. The Windrush Legal Initiative has been assisting claimants with their applications under this scheme.

However, since then, the Compensation Scheme has been accused of achieving very little and of being both traumatising and degrading for those trying to make claims. Nicola Burgess, who oversees the Windrush Legal Initiative at GMIAU remarked:

"The Windrush Compensation Scheme has attracted considerable criticism: it is too narrow and prescriptive, it doesn't compensate for real-life losses, the decision making is subject to delay, can often be poor and there is a limited right of review with no access to an independent tribunal or court. Worst of all, it is run by the Home Office, the Government department which caused the injustice in the first place.”

As of January 2023, only 12.8% of the estimated 11,500 eligible claimants had been compensated. An enormous amount of evidence is required for the claim, often which is impossible or incredibly difficult to locate. The Windrush Legal Initiative assists claimants with their application forms, witness statements and identifying what documents are needed. Without legal support, many claimants are unable to tackle the process.

In 2020, Wendy Williams was commissioned to provide a report titled “Windrush Lessons Learned Review”, which set out the failings of the Home Office and provided 30 recommendations. The government at the time accepted those recommendations, however, many have been rolled back or abandoned under Suella Braverman’s leadership.

Chiefly, the following have been discontinued:

  1. Recommendation 3: The present government has discontinued its programme of running Windrush reconciliation events.
  2. Recommendation 9: Plans to establish a Migrants’ Commissioner has been discontinued. The Commissioner was to be responsible for speaking up for migrants and for identifying systemic problems within the UK immigration system.
  3. Recommendation 10: A review of the remit and role of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has been abandoned.

And so, today as we commemorate 75 years since the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush, we must look to many hurdles that the Windrush Generation continue to face.

Those impacted by the Windrush Scandal can contact Nicola Burgess at GMIAU to access further information and for legal support. If you are interested in hearing more on our Pro Bono Practice, please contact Sarah Farrelly.

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