LONDON – A civil rights group urged U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Thursday to follow through on promises made to thousands of people of Caribbean descent who were wrongly targeted as illegal migrants in the so-called Windrush scandal that emerged five years ago.
The Black Equity Organisation submitted a petition signed by more than 50,000 people that criticized the “painfully slow” response by the government and the decision by Home Secretary Suella Braverman to scrap several recommendations for immigration agency improvements that her predecessor accepted.
“We urge your government to stick to the promises made — there is still an opportunity to show that you and your ministers are serious about righting past wrongs," a letter to Sunak said. “To do anything less sends a clear message that the suffering of the Windrush generation was in vain and the hostile environment still exists.”
The group is named for the Empire Windrush, the ship that brought the first 500 Caribbean migrants to British shores in 1948 to help rebuild after World War II. Tens of thousands of migrants from the region who arrived legally in the U.K. until 1973 later found themselves facing a government crackdown on illegal immigrants.
Scores lost jobs, homes and the right to free medical care because they didn’t have the paperwork to prove their status. Some were detained and others deported.
After British news media uncovered the scandal in 2018, the government apologized and offered compensation, but the group said payments are inadequate for the harm done and the process is “bureaucratic and overly complicated.”
“It is unconscionable that some Windrush victims who should have been compensated died before their cases were resolved and payments made,” the group said. “Many others are still fighting to receive their payments.”
The Home Office said it remains "committed to righting the wrongs of Windrush” and has paid or offered more than 64 million pounds ($80 million) to people affected.
A government watchdog in 2020 found "institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness” were partly to blame for the scandal and made 30 recommendations to improve the office overseeing immigration.
Braverman said in January that she said she would scrap two recommendations that would increase independent scrutiny of migration policies and a third to hold reconciliation events with Windrush survivors.
The Conservative government has been under fire from human rights groups for its controversial migration bill that would bar asylum claims by anyone who reaches the U.K. by unauthorized means and would deport migrants back home or to a third country.