Late Monday, UK Interior minister Amber Rudd issued an apology to thousands of British residents of Caribbean descent – who arrived in the country more than half-a-century ago – after reports surfaced that they may be deported.
Rudd said the migrants were incorrectly identified as illegal immigrants, in violation of their basic rights. Prime Minister Theresa May received heavy criticism as a result of the news and is being pressured to meet with the 'Windrush generation' community to resolve the issue.
Labour MP David Lammy, whose parents were from Guyana, said that the government's immigration policies had led to a “day of national shame,” adding “and it has come about because of a 'hostile environment' policy that was begun under her Prime Minister. Let us call it as it is. If you lay down with dogs you get fleas, and that is what has happened with this far-right rhetoric in this country.”
Veteran Jamaican journalist Fae Ellington chimed in, urging people of Caribbean descent to remind the UK Government that their country was built by immigrants.
“I think West Indians who went to the UK to help rebuild it after WWII & their families born there, should walk throughout the streets in silent protest with placards bearing 3 simple words. #WeBuiltIt. Because they did. Even before they arrived...We had,” Ellington posted on Twitter.
“We built their industries, the transportation sector, factories, houses, hospitals etc. West Indians were employed in these sectors and more and many subsequently went on to create their own businesses. And what of ALL that was taken from us during slavery?!”
Under the 1971 Immigration Act, all Commonwealth citizens already living in the UK were given indefinite leave to remain there.
"When the Commonwealth heads of government are gathered in London, what a disgrace it is that this government has treated Commonwealth migrants in this way," Labour lawmaker Diane Abbott, who has Jamaican parents, quipped.
Guy Hewitt, the London-born High Commissioner to Barbados, told BBC radio that because the 'Windrush generation' “came from British colonies which were not independent they felt they were British subjects, they felt there was no need for them to recognize their status. And now, 40, 50 years on they are being told by the Home Office that they are illegal immigrants.”
However, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland – who hails from Dominica – said it would be a "very challenging" week, adding that “some of the internal issues have to remain just that, whatever your own personal views.”
Over 140 legislators have signed a letter urging May to resolve this “inhumane” issue which would affect the group of people who migrated to the UK, between 1948 and 1971, from the Caribbean colonies. The Commonwealth citizens were invited to fill labor shortages after World War II and more than 500,000 answered the call.
During May’s six-year tenure at the interior ministry, the office ministry displayed billboards on vans telling illegal immigrants to “Go Home or Face Arrest,” in a bid to realize her mandate to reduce immigration. Members of the 'Windrush generation' are believed to have been inadvertently targeted in the campaign.
Junior home office minister Caroline Nokes admitted that some people, from the group of tens of thousands of migrants, may have been deported in error while others are being declined health care or fired from jobs.
"Potentially they have been and I'm very conscious that it's very much in error, and that's an error that I want to put right," Nokes told Channel 4.
The ‘Windrush generation’ was named after the vessel on which the traveled to the UK and given special protective residency upon arrival.
“It’s disgraceful that the rights of the 'Windrush generation' have been brought into question by this government and that some have been wrongfully deported,” leader of the opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn said.
Rudd further explained that a new unit would be put in place to help people establish their British residency, adding that fees for new documents will be waived.
“Frankly, some of the way they have been treated has been wrong, has been appalling, and I am sorry.”
The interior secretary added: "I wouldn't want anyone who has made their life in the UK to feel unwelcome or be in any doubt of their right to remain here. There is absolutely no question about their right to remain and I am very sorry for any confusion or anxiety felt."
Britain is scheduled to host the annual Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London this week.
Prime Minister May will reportedly meet with Caribbean leaders at the London summit to address the issue.