Almost all of today’s papers focus on the aftermath of the latest bombing of targets in Syria, and in the case of those titles that slavishly back the Government, for which read most of them, there is a very good reason for them to divert attention from a far less appealing facet of Theresa May and her motley crew.
In June this year, it will be 70 years since the Empire Windrush, a troopship that had started life as a German cruise liner, docked at Tilbury, bringing one of the first large groups of immigrants from the West Indies. Almost 500 made the journey; they were followed by many more over the following years.
The routine of this migration was even captured in John Schlesinger’s 1960 landmark documentary Terminus, as a party from Jamaica arrives at London’s Waterloo station on a Southampton boat train. And there was one more important aspect of that migration: at the time, those arriving were what were then called British Subjects. They were therefore not considered as foreign - well, until now, it seems.
Although anyone living here continuously since before 1 January 1973 is legally entitled to live in the UK, many of those who arrived here as children have never had a passport, and this has made it difficult for some to prove that they are entitled to be here. Some of those people travelled on their parents’ passports; they never became formally naturalised.
Realising that there is a problem, the Government has made this statement: “Recent changes to the law mean that if you wish to work, rent property or have access to benefits and services in the UK then you will need documents to demonstrate your right to be in the UK. The government believes this is a proportionate measure to maintain effective immigration control … We recognise that this is causing problems for some individuals who have lost documents over the long period of time they have been in the UK … No one with the right to be here will be required to leave”. This has not allayed concerns.
So, ahead of this week’s Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (CHOGM), representatives of 12 Caribbean countries requested a meeting with Theresa May to discuss the problems being faced by some of the “Windrush Generation”. This formal diplomatic request has been turned down, as the Guardian has reported.
The Barbados high commissioner has confirmed “We did make a request to the CHOGM summit team for a meeting to be held between the prime minister and the Commonwealth Caribbean heads of government who will be here for the CHOGM and regrettably they have advised us that that is not possible”. Lack of press coverage explained in one.
Some of those affected have even been threatened with deportation - and to countries where they have no living relatives. They are people who, as the Guardian has also told, “were invited to move to the UK by the British government to help with postwar rebuilding”. Now they face uncertainty: loss of work, benefits, eligibility for NHS treatment, and a Home Office that appears to assume they are here illegally.
And now the Tories have abandoned them. People who have worked and contributed to the economy for decades. The same Tories who proclaim that Brexit will mean closer ties with the Commonwealth. This is shameful behaviour. It must never be forgotten.