Loosing Citizenship; the Windrush scandal

The Empire Windrush, carrying some 500 passengers from Jamaica, arrived at Tilbury Dock on 22 June 1948.

Lesson plan

  1. Read the text below. And the introduction here:
  2. Play Music – O Island in the Sun by Harry Belafonte and answer the questions below.
  • Where is the island in the song? •
  • What images are conveyed by the music? •
  • Where is the Caribbean Located? •
  • What do I know about the Caribbean region? •
  • What sources can be used to find out about the Caribbean region? •
  • When and why were African people enslaved in the Caribbean region?

3. Passengers on the Windrush were told that they were headed for the ‘mother country’ and that they were all welcome. What did they experience after their arrival in Britain? Seven Windrush passengers tell their stories. Choose one or two of the characters to and write a short text about their story you can also use one or both of the videos below.  Look here  or watch the videos below.

4. How are the people treated today, look at the text below from the New York Review.  And here. BBC

5. Do the Caribbean map quiz below.



One misty morning in June 1948 a former German cruise boat, the Empire Windrush, steamed up the Thames to the Tilbury Dock, London, where she disembarked some 500 hopeful passengers from Kingston, Jamaica: 492 was the official figure, but there were several stowaways as well. Many of them were ex-servicemen, who had served in England during the war. The new arrivals were the first wave in Britain’s post-war drive to recruit labour from the Commonwealth to cover employment shortages in state-run services like the NHS and London Transport.

One of them was a future Mayor of Southwark, Sam King, who had served in England with the wartime RAF. His family had sold three cows to buy his ticket which cost £28.10s in the old money (upward of £600 today). Looking back on the experience years afterwards – in Forty Winters On, published by Lambeth Council – he recalled that as the ship drew towards England there was apprehension on board that the authorities would turn it back. He got two ex-RAF wireless operators among the passengers to play dominoes innocently outside the ship’s radio room and eavesdrop on incoming signals. They heard on the BBC that Arthur Creech Jones, Colonial Secretary in the Labour government of the time, had pointed out that: ‘These people have British passports and they must be allowed to land.’ He added that they would not last one winter in England anyway, so there was nothing to worry about. Source: History today. 

How do we explain the widespread ignorance of the presence of people of African and Caribbean origin in British history? Black men and women appear, for example, in Pepys’s diaries; in eighteenth-century portaits; sailing with Captain Cook on the Endeavour; not to mention the stories of Thackeray, Trollope, Dornford Yates, W.S. Gilbert, Laurie Lee and Evelyn Waugh. Yet there is a general misapprehension that people of African descent were absent from Britain until very recently. This misconception has been nurtured by a belief that apparent exceptions can be ignored.

There is a further mistaken belief that those black people who do appear were temporary residents – and often worked in unskilled occupations – and this added to the notion that they made little contribution to British society. In 1998 celebrations were held of the half-century anniversary of the arrival in England of the immigrant ship Empire Windrush from Jamaica, but these often merely re-confirmed the prejudice that the black presence in Britain was recent, alien and working-class. Source: Before the Windrush

Some seventy years later, the “Windrush generation” has returned to the center of attention in Britain—not this time in a spirit of optimism and hope but of hurt and anger. Last week, when member of Parliament David Lammy stood in the House of Commons to give an extraordinarily passionate speech, lambasting the Home Office and the government’s actions and inaction as “a day of national shame,” he did so in the service of the Caribbean-born children of Ulric Cross’s generation who came to England in the 1950s and 1960s, and who are now threatened with dispossession, even deportation. Despite their having lived in the UK for decades, working and paying taxes, many of these black Britons lack the paperwork to prove their immigration status—thanks to a very British bureaucratic anomaly. As a result, many have lost jobs, as well as access to benefits and healthcare; some face losing their residency rights. Source: The New York Review. 

Haywood Magee/Picture Post/Getty Images

West Indian immigrants waiting in line at the port of Southampton, England, 1956

Why did the Windrush scandal happen?  

Commonwealth citizens were affected by the government’s ‘Hostile Environment’ legislation – a policy announced in 2012 which tasked the NHS, landlords, banks, employers and many others with enforcing immigration controls. It aimed to make the UK unlivable for undocumented migrants and ultimately push them to leave.  

Because many of the Windrush generation arrived as children on their parents’ passports, and the Home Office destroyed thousands of landing cards and other records, many lacked the documentation to prove their right to remain in the UK. The Home Office also placed the burden of proof on individuals to prove their residency predated 1973. The Home Office demanded at least one official document from every year they had lived here. Attempting to find documents from decades ago created a huge, and in many cases, impossible burden on people who had done nothing wrong. 

Falsely deemed as ‘illegal immigrants’ / ‘undocumented migrants’ they began to lose their access to housing, healthcare, bank accounts and driving licenses. Many were placed in immigration detention, prevented from travelling abroad and threatened with forcible removal, while others were deported to countries they hadn’t seen since they were children.  

Their harmful and unjust treatment provoked widespread condemnation of government’s failings on the matter, with calls being made for radical reform of the Home Office and the UK’s immigration policy. In response to these demands, then Home Secretary, Sajid Javid announced in May 2018 that the Home Office would commission a ‘Windrush Lessons Learned Review’.  Source: The council of the welfare of immigrants. 

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