The Windrush generation, named after the ship they arrived in, was a group of people who experienced terrible injustices because of the United Kingdom (UK) government. They arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1973, and originate from the Caribbean countries. However, even though it had been many years since they arrived, the controversial scandal was only revealed in 2017 when a journalist began telling their stories. Hundreds of UK citizens had apparently been wrongly detained by the government, some even being deported, and denied rights. An important question to consider is why did the scandal even happen?
The Windrush Scandal was due to unfair immigration laws set by the Home Office, the main being the “Hostile Environment” legislation which was established in 2012. The Home Secretary at that time said it was to create a hostile environment for illegal immigrants so that they would be forced to leave the UK. That itself is a morally questionable policy, but that was not the extent of the harm done by this legislation. The policy called for citizens to play a part in ensuring the people they interact and work with are legally in the country. For example, landlords, employers, and even doctors would be required to ask for legal documents to confirm if somebody is a legal immigrant before providing them a service or working with them. However, many people of the Windrush generation lacked the proper documentation to prove their legal right to stay in the UK. They were required to provide at least one document from each year they lived in the UK, which proved to be impossible for many of them to find, leaving them in a dangerous situation despite their innocence. People who were once considered legal immigrants were instantly deemed illegal and lost access to healthcare and other benefits they needed to survive. Some were even deported back to countries that they had left as children.
After facing severe public backlash, the government finally apologized for its injustices and offered compensation to those affected by the scandal. However, only a small percentage of people were able to claim the compensation, and many even died before the compensation was offered. Many people of the Windrush generation are too scared to come up and receive the compensation because it would mean having to face the Home Office again. The horrors they faced have permanently affected their lives, and sense of security.
While the public attention on this has significantly decreased since 2017, the scandal is not yet over. Despite all of the backlash, the “Hostile Environment” legislation still exists and has not been recalled. During the Covid-19 pandemic, many people affected by it struggled due to a lack of healthcare. Just because they did not have enough documentation to prove they were legal immigrants, they faced serious medical consequences because they were denied healthcare. The government promised to come back from the scandal and make changes for the better, but so far those have been false promises as there has not been any significant action towards change. As this is something that could easily happen again in the next few years, it is important to uncover the institutional racism within the immigration laws that caused the scandal.
The Windrush scandal happened due to the UK government wanting to reduce the non-white population by forcing immigrants to leave. Looking at the history of the policies, the UK government has always depended on racism to uphold its supremacy. All immigration legislation in the UK was solely meant to reduce the black or brown population in some way. The scandal happened because this racism had not been uncovered fast enough, and the Windrush generation suffered the consequences. This was all discovered through a leaked government report which had been commissioned by the Home Office. It is unknown why the government did not release it, however, political experts inferred that they were denying the presence of racism in their policies.
Historians and activists who have invested their time in this issue say that government cannot hide from its wrongdoings anymore as there are many people fighting for justice for the Windrush generation. Their struggles are not forgotten, instead, they are used to bring light to institutional racism within the UK government, and will hopefully be a call for change so that future generations can have a better life without racist policies.