Windrush issue refocuses a light on our failings
Over the past few weeks you may have heard about the Windrush scandal coming out of Britain, which has claimed the scalp of Amber Rudd as Home Secretary. She has been replaced by Sajid Javid, who becomes the first ethnic minority in that position in British history.
What is it about and why should we in Bermuda care?
Let’s start with the Windrush name. Windrush is a reference to the ship MV Empire Windrush, which arrived at Tilbury Docks, Essex, on June 22, 1948, bringing workers from Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and other islands, as a response to postwar labour shortages in Britain. The BBC reported that “it is unclear how many people belong to the Windrush generation, since many of those who arrived as children travelled on parents’ passports and never applied for travel documents — but they are thought to be in their thousands”.
It has been estimated that there are 500,000 people resident in Britain who were born in a Commonwealth country and arrived in the United Kingdom before 1973 — including the Windrush arrivals. In 1973 the law changed in Britain, which essentially allowed all Commonwealth citizens already living there to remain indefinitely.
Sadly, the Home Office did not keep a record of those granted leave to remain — or issue any paperwork confirming it — meaning it is difficult for Windrush arrivals to prove they are in Britain legally. Most believed they were British citizens.
To make matters worse, in 2010, landing cards belonging to Windrush migrants were destroyed by the Home Office — when Prime Minister Theresa May was Home Secretary. As such, there are potentially thousands and thousands of people who can’t prove they are actually allowed to stay in Britain.
This has caused allegations of racism against the British Government. Immigration law there is fraught with difficulty in respect of why certain laws and policies were put in place. And the Windrush immigrants are the legacy of racially biased immigration policies. The May Administration is now scrambling to fix the problem, but it is somewhat shackled by a system that is designed to inhibit rather than assist.
Why is this important to Bermuda? What are the lessons we can draw from the Windrush travesty? And what are the modern-day comparisons for Bermuda?
Bermuda has had its fair share of racially inspired immigration laws and regulations. But today in a modern and democratic society, it should have no place. Sadly, we live in a jurisdiction where absolutely everything relating to immigration must be looked at through this prism, which is why immigration is often referred to as the “third rail of politics”.
The way in which the Windrush immigrants and their descendants have been treated is clearly reprehensible but unsurprising.
In Bermuda, we have similar issues with respect to children of economic migrants. I am talking specifically about children of “expats” who were born in Bermuda or who came here at a very young age and have not known any other country as home. I am talking about children who have spent their entire lives in Bermuda.
If nothing else, this matter must be addressed.
I am somewhat hopeful, especially when I read comments from Christopher Famous, the backbench government MP, who commented on the Windrush generation: “It was their act of solidarity in standing up against the immoral and shameful treatment of children of the Windrush generation that forced British Prime Minister Theresa May and her Cabinet to make an about-turn on a policy that led to thousands of people being stripped of rightful benefits such as healthcare and/or deported to the Caribbean.”
Famous also said on the ZBM Evening News last week that it would be unfair to send the descendants of the Windrush generation back to their parents’ homeland, which they do not know. He even said that the moral thing for Britain to do would be to provide full citizenship to those people.
The Supporting Fair Immigration Reform Group has rightly said: “If we sympathise for those people, why can’t we sympathise for those people who are in the same situation here in Bermuda?” Frankly, the parallels are obvious.
Well, Famous sits on the bipartisan Parliamentary Committee on Immigration, which we have now been told has been meeting regularly to examine a number of immigration-related issues. This, after a major report was already completed and published by the Immigration Working Group appointed in 2016, which made very sensible proposals in dealing with children of guest workers that I have mentioned. That working group essentially recommended giving such children status.
And yet, despite all this, we are told there will still be more talking, more reports and more meetings. At some point, it is time to simply do the right thing. And that is to reintroduce a clause in the Immigration and Protection Act 1956 that gives those persons who came to Bermuda before the age of 6 — or born in Bermuda — and are now at least age 18 and have spent their entire time living in Bermuda, the right to status or at least permanent residency.
We in Bermuda pride ourselves on being welcoming. In the words of our Premier, as uttered at the House of Assembly on February 26, 2016: “Let us work together to fix the problems for those who know no other home but Bermuda, but who have no legalised right of permanent abode to what is essentially their home. Let us work together to ensure that we can attract persons to our shores who are willing to invest and bring jobs to Bermuda. Let us work together to ensure that those who have contributed to the betterment of Bermuda can continue to stay in Bermuda to help make our island a better place.”
It is high time to get on with it.
•Michael Fahy is a former Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of Tourism, Transport and Municipalities, and Junior Minister of Finance under the One Bermuda Alliance government