Windrush generation 70th anniversary overshadowed by political scandal
A church service will mark the occasion at a time of controversy over how the migrants have been treated.
Celebrations are to be held honouring the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush generation, but the Government’s efforts could be overshadowed by the ongoing political scandal.
Theresa May, who has faced criticism, is expected to attend a Westminster Abbey service on Friday to mark the moment hundreds of Caribbean migrants departed the Empire Windrush ship in Tilbury Docks on June 22 1948.
The celebrations, however, have been described as “bittersweet” as the fallout continues after some members of the Windrush were wrongly deported and denied access to the NHS, work and housing despite having a legal right to be in the UK.
The Government is funding the church service, while an event will also be held at the Essex docks where the landmark nautical journey concluded for the migrants seeking a prosperous future helping to rebuild post-war Britain.
The congregation at the Abbey on Friday will hear the world premiere of a specially composed Anthem to Windrush, and celebrant Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster will wear a robe featuring a photo montage of aspects of black history in Britain since the arrival of Windrush seven decades ago.
Plans to create an annual Government-backed Windrush Day have been welcomed, but questions remain over compensation for those who have suffered financial setbacks trying to prove their right to residence.
I think it's a moment to celebrate the people who gave so much and took so little but it is a little bittersweet David Lammy
The Home Office reiterated Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s commitment to a compensation scheme and said more than 500 people and organisations have come forward as part of the call for evidence.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who has written to Mr Javid, called on the Government to “come clean” about the full extent of the scandal, blamed on the “hostile environment” to immigrants championed by Mrs May when she was at the Home Office.
“Warm words about commemorating the Windrush generation are not enough,” the Labour politician said.
Labour MP David Lammy, whose Tottenham constituents are among those affected, said British-Caribbeans must be celebrated on the day, but warned the scandal has “left a very nasty taste in the mouth”.
“I think it’s a moment to celebrate the people who gave so much and took so little but it is a little bittersweet,” he added.
The Government effort to right the wrongs of the scandal continued this week with a Home Office announcement that Wendy Williams, one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Constabulary, and a former Chief Crown Prosecutor, will oversee the Windrush lessons learned review.
Mr Javid said: “The contribution that the Windrush generation have made to this country is invaluable and I am committed to putting things right.
“I am delighted that Wendy will be overseeing the lessons learned review, which is vital to ensuring this never happens again to any group of people.
“She has a wealth of experience and I am confident that she will bring integrity to the review and give it the external scrutiny it requires.”
More than 2,000 people have been provided documentation since April by the dedicated Windrush taskforce, the Home Office said, helping them to demonstrate their right to residence.
Under the new Windrush scheme, which offers free citizenship for Commonwealth citizens who arrived before 1973 and children who joined their parents before they turned 18, 285 people have so far been granted citizenship, they added.
So far the Home Office has made contact with 11 people who may have been wrongfully removed from the UK as a result of the fiasco.
Shadow international development secretary Kate Osamor, whose constituents include a man who was wrongly detained twice and threatened with deportation, said: “An anniversary year which should have been about giving the Windrush generation the celebration, thanks and praise they deserve is instead one where they are owed apologies, answers and compensation.”
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, called for a hardship fund to help support Windrush citizens, said: “Today, as we mark the 70th anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush, many of our fellow citizens have been left destitute by the Home Office and the government’s hostile environment policy.
“They cannot wait months for a consultation to be concluded on the government’s promised compensation scheme.
“The Home Office’s hostile environment policy has left British citizens in debt, jobless, denied access to the benefits to which they are entitled and even homeless.
“The Home Secretary must act to urgently establish a hardship fund to support these people ahead of the promised compensation scheme, which will clearly not be up and running for months.
“The Home Secretary is dragging his feet and has failed to even confirm when the compensation scheme will finally be set up. This is totally unacceptable.
“If the Home Secretary is to keep his promise to put this crisis right then he needs to act now.”
Ms Williams said: “The dignity shown by the Windrush Generation over the last few months has been humbling.
“In response, the very least we can do is undertake a comprehensive review that will not only provide them with much needed reassurance, but which will also seek to ensure that lessons are learned for the future.”