The Prime Minister of Britain Theresa May has publicly apologized to Caribbean countries when she met with Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders on Tuesday, to discuss the situation of pre-1971 Caribbean undocumented United Kingdom (UK) immigrants.
“I want to apologize to you today. Because we are genuinely sorry for any anxiety that has been caused,” May said, adding “I want to dispel any impression that my government is in some sense clamping down on Commonwealth citizens, particularly those from the Caribbean,” May told the meeting.
The right to remain in the UK
“Those who arrived from the Caribbean before 1973 and lived here permanently without significant periods of time away in the last 30 years have the right to remain in the UK. As do the vast majority of long-term residents who arrived later, and I don’t want anybody to be in any doubt about their right to remain here in the United Kingdom.”
May said the current controversy had arisen because of new rules, introduced by her as home secretary, designed to make sure only those with the right to remain in the UK could access the welfare system and the National Health Service (NHS).
“This has resulted in some people, through no fault of their own, now needing to be able to evidence their immigration status,” she said, adding that “the overwhelming majority of the Windrush generation do have the documents that they need, but we are working hard to help those who do not.”
Many Caribbean nationals came to Britain between 1948 and 1971. This immigrant wave was termed Windrush from the name of the ship, the Empire Windrush, that brought over the first group of West Indian immigrants.
Holness wants speedy response to situation
Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who was among the CARICOM leaders meeting with May at 10 Downing Street, said he wanted a “speedy” response to the situation, indicating that those people being threatened with deportation had ‘significantly contributed to the building and enrichment of the country. “Now these persons are not able to claim their place as citizens”, he said, telling Prime Minister May “Prime Minister, we welcome your response and we look forward to a speedy implementation of your proposed solution.
“It will lead to security, certainly for those who have been affected… It is time for the inclusive prosperity for which we stand as Commonwealth people.”
Gaston Browne pleased with response
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne had indicated an apology from Prime Minister May “would be welcome” and was “pleased” the government had stepped in.
Britain is reported to have written to each of the governments involved setting out how it intends to rectify the situation, notably by helping anyone affected to find the necessary paperwork to regularize their immigration status.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd told Parliament she is “very concerned” about the way in which the Windrush generation have been treated and acknowledged that the Home Office had become “too concerned with policy and strategy and sometimes loses sight of the individual”, in the recent past.
Special task force to be established
Rudd said that a new task force with the aim of ensuring the Windrush generation receive the paperwork they need to confirm their immigration status within two weeks had been established. She also told leaders that the fees involved in going through the process would be waived.
Under the 1971 Immigration Act, all Commonwealth citizens already living in the UK were given indefinite leave to remain. However, 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 the individuals to now prove they are in the UK legally.