This column appeared in the Friday 6th March 2020 edition of the South London Press.
Revelations about Government plans to tighten immigration legislation have, worryingly, come thick and fast in the last few weeks. This stokes fear in constituencies like mine which has a wonderfully rich, diverse make up thanks to migration.
Since I was elected in 2015, over 2000 people have been in touch with me about concerns over their immigration status and we’ve been inundated with enquiries following the 2018 Windrush Scandal.
22 people who have come forward are part of the Windrush generation – citizens of the British Commonwealth who were invited to the UK to help rebuild the country after the ravages of war and austerity.
They’ve served in our military forces, worked in our hospitals, taught in our schools, paid taxes and now, just when they should be enjoying their retirement, the Government has refused to recognise their existence. One way in which former Prime Minister Theresa May definitely did succeed was in the creation of a hostile environment.
Applicants to the Windrush scheme are provided with biometric residence permits (BRP), an identity card containing personal data and conditions of their immigration status. This should serve as proof of their right to reside in the UK to employers, landlords and immigration enforcement officers. They are British citizens and deserve to be treated as such.
Many of those affected have been refused employment or the benefits to which they are entitled, due to lack of official documentation. It is unacceptable to keep them impoverished any longer.
A constituent recently contacted me with the sad news his father had died whilst awaiting a decision on his Windrush application. Disgustingly his right to return to the UK was still pending authorisation from the Windrush task force.
I was deeply disappointed, but sadly not surprised to hear that, two years on, it appears that the Government’s Windrush Compensation Scheme has not paid anything to anyone. Indeed, the Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Bill (to agree release of public funds for claimants) was only brought before Parliament a few weeks ago.
Claimants have had to seek independent advice and legal aid to complete the complex application for compensation. After a decade of austerity, we see an already over stretched voluntary sector, stepping in where the public sector refuses.
We continue to support people where possible and we’ve made many references to the excellent – but underfunded – Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network, which does great work in supporting people in difficult situations.
I am worried that many of those affected will be unaware or unable to come forward for fear of repercussions. I encourage any Lewisham Deptford residents who need assistance to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.