Windrush scandal: Campaigners demand citizenship for all victims in first 100 days of new government

21 June 2024, 20:17 | Updated: 22 June 2024, 06:46

Windrush campaigners are calling on the next government to grant citizenship to all victims of the immigration scandal in the first 100 days after the election.

Campaigners including Action for Race Equality (ARE) have warned that the current compensation and documentation scheme is "unwieldy" and in need of desperate reform.

The Windrush scandal refers to migrants from the Caribbean who started to arrive in 1948 to help rebuild Britain after the war.

They were given the right to live and work in Britain permanently but many were later wrongly deemed illegal immigrants.

As a result of the scandal, a Windrush Scheme for Documentation was established in 2018 so those impacted were able to retrieve their documents and demonstrate their right to citizenship.

The Home Office estimates that more than 16,800 people have been provided with their documents through the scheme.

However, ARE says a third of those who have received documents are from EU countries and claims more than 57,000 people impacted by the Windrush scandal may still be eligible.

The charity has also criticised the Windrush Compensation Scheme which the Home Office says has paid out £85.86m across 2,382 claims, as of March.

But Jeremy Crook OBE, ARE chief executive, believes almost 4,000 claims were rejected and says it is likely because the 44-page long application is "very bureaucratic" and "onerous".

"Our manifesto calls for legal aid to be put in place by the next government," says Mr Crook.

'I still think they're gonna come for me'

Shane Smith, 44, was born in Trinidad and Tobago, but was brought to the UK by his British mum when he was just four months old.

He was at work, in his early thirties, when he was told he had no right to remain in the only place he knew as home.

"I was dragged into the office and they were like, you've got an immigration issue," says Mr Smith.

"I said, 'Can't you hear my voice? I'm a scouser!' That's when everything fell apart."

He lost his job as a result of the scandal and it took him years to obtain the documents he needed to be granted the citizenship he was already entitled to.

Mr Smith became homeless as a result of work insecurities, and years later is still battling with mental health issues.

"I just felt alone, I couldn't provide for my family anymore… I'm embarrassed, because I am a proud man, and before this I thought I was very, very strong," says Mr Smith.

"I still think they're gonna come for me."

Although he may be entitled to compensation, Mr Smith hasn't yet applied for the scheme, as he believes the process does not consider the complex lives created by the scandal.

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"I've got to go through a dossier and provide all this stuff, when half the time I was homeless," he says.

He says when he received the compensation booklet, he couldn't face going through the paperwork.

"I just threw it in the bin."

Mr Smith also says even if he found the mental strength to fill it out, he's not sure he could accept the money based on principles.

"If I accept it, it's just like saying what you did to me is fine, and you are okay doing that to anyone else," he says.

It's this "lack of faith" in the government's ability to right the wrongs of the scandal that has inspired ARE, which is also calling upon the incoming government to establish a Windrush covenant for mental health.