AN apology by the British government for its “appalling” treatment of some immigrants from the Caribbean, who went to the United Kingdom as children nearly 50 years ago, was welcome news in TT yesterday. Among those welcoming the apology were former head of the Public Service Reginald Dumas, former foreign affairs minister Ralph Maraj and former TT High Commissioner to the UK, Garvin Nicholas.
“What happened is not fair and is not just,” Dumas told Newsday. He said given the pressure brought to bear on the British government on the Windrush issue, it was not surprising that British Home Secretary Amber Rudd made the statement that she did in the House of Commons. Dumas said it was also no surprise that British Prime Minister Theresa May made a 180 degree turn and will meet with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and the leaders of 11 other Caribbean countries on this matter during the CHOGM.
TT High Commissioner to the UK, Orville London, was amongst the 12 Caribbean high commissioners who made the request. Newsday understands that Rowley has been briefed on the matter.
Dumas said it is nothing short of “astonishing” that the British government would take such a move against people who have been living in the UK “for decades.” Commenting on reports that an elderly person was held in a detention centre and other people lost their jobs, Dumas declared, “This is inhumane.”
Rudd announced the creation of a task force to sort out Caribbean immigrants’ paperwork simply and for free. She promised that no one would be deported. “We have seen the individual stories, and they have been, some of them, terrible to hear, and that is why I have acted,” Rudd said.
“Frankly, some of the ways they have been treated has been wrong, has been appalling and I am sorry,” she said. Dumas said Rudd appeared to be blaming public servants in her own ministry for the fiasco. He said it was strangely similar to blame being cast on public servants in the Foreign and Caricom Affairs Ministry with respect to this country’s vote against a waiver of Dominica’s OAS (Organisation of American States) membership fees. Dumas said a Caricom position was needed on the matter.
He said even though the number of TT nationals living in the UK is less than other Caribbean nationals, “all of us are affected.” Dumas said he would not be surprised if the meeting between May and the Caribbean leaders takes place at the leaders’ retreat at Windsor Castle on Friday, the final day of the CHOGM. He explained this forum provides an opportunity for leaders to deal with issues outside of what’s on the main agenda of the CHOGM.
With Rowley scheduled to meet with TT nationals at the Amba Hotel Marble Arch in London next Monday at 6 pm, Dumas said this would be the perfect opportunity for him to answer their questions on the matter and report on the outcome of talks with May. Maraj described the threats by the British government against some Caribbean immigrants as “brutal and callous.” He said this went against the image of Britain being a welcoming nation. Maraj said many of these people were the descendants of Caribbean immigrants who came to Britain after World War II and helped rebuild it.
Coming so soon after Brexit, Maraj said this was, “clearly reflective of nativism.” He believed that Caricom and TT were not proactive enough. Maraj argued it was another example of Caricom’s foreign policy being “lacklustre and dormant.” Nicholas said, “It came late but it is to be welcomed.” Nicholas said while he never had to deal specifically with the “Windrush generation” issue during his tenure (2010 to 2014), there has been a long-running “battle for equality” for Caricom nationals who migrated to the UK.
Nicholas said certain immigrants took “a level of prominence at the table” at the expense of immigrants from the Caribbean. He added the latter “really had to battle” for equality of treatment. He was optimistic that there would be a positive outcome in talks between May and Caribbean leaders. Nicholas welcomed the comments of Labour Party MP David Lammy, who demanded answers from the government and called the issue, “a day of national shame.”
The Guardian newspaper has reported on the mistreatment of people such as former House of Commons cook Paulette Wilson, who moved to Britain at age ten. She was sent to an immigration detention centre last year after failing to convince authorities she had the right to remain in Britain. An AP report said the British government has taken an increasingly tough line on immigration, which has increased dramatically over the last ten or 15 years, largely as result of people moving to the UK from other EU countries.
A desire to control immigration was a major factor for many voters who supported the 2016 referendum for Britain to leave the EU. Critics say the British government has, by design or accidentally, taken a hostile attitude to the thousands of people who have made Britain their home. Barbados High Commissioner Guy Hewitt told the BBC yesterday that he felt Britain was telling people from the Caribbean, “You are no longer welcome.” Some 140 UK lawmakers signed a letter urging the government to find an “immediate and effective” response to concerns from Commonwealth-born residents over their immigration status.
The Commonwealth links 2.4 billion people on five continents, from countries such as vast India and wealthy Australia to small island states like Tonga and Vanuatu.