Windrush Scandal: Thousands Misclassified by UK as Illegal Immigrants Still Without Compensation
Date: June 22, 2023
Years after the Windrush scandal shook the United Kingdom, a shocking revelation has emerged that thousands of individuals who were wrongly classified as illegal immigrants are still awaiting compensation. The long-standing issue, which exposed systemic failures and unjust treatment, continues to haunt those affected, highlighting the persistent struggles faced by the victims of the scandal.
The Windrush scandal, named after the ship that brought Caribbean immigrants to the UK in the aftermath of World War II, exposed the wrongful detention, deportation, and denial of basic rights to individuals who had legally resided in the country for decades. They were targeted due to a lack of proper documentation and faced severe consequences despite being part of the Windrush generation – a group that arrived in the UK before 1973.
In the wake of the scandal, the UK government promised swift action, pledging to right the wrongs inflicted upon the victims. Compensation schemes were introduced to provide financial redress and acknowledge the hardships faced by those affected. However, years later, it has come to light that thousands of individuals who were misclassified as illegal immigrants are still awaiting compensation, leaving them in a state of prolonged uncertainty and injustice.
The scale of the issue is staggering, with reports suggesting that an estimated 5,000 individuals have yet to receive compensation for the harm caused by the government’s wrongful categorization. Many of these individuals have faced significant financial, emotional, and societal challenges as a result of being wrongly labeled as illegal immigrants.
The delay in compensating the victims has been attributed to a variety of factors, including bureaucratic hurdles, complex eligibility criteria, and a lack of sufficient resources to process claims in a timely manner. Critics argue that the slow progress in providing compensation only exacerbates the distress and frustration experienced by the affected individuals, compounding the injustice they have endured.
Support organizations and advocacy groups have been vocal in demanding swifter action and urging the government to prioritize the resolution of outstanding compensation claims. They argue that the delays not only prolong the suffering of those affected but also perpetuate a lack of trust in the government’s commitment to addressing the consequences of the Windrush scandal.
Government officials have acknowledged the ongoing challenges but maintain their commitment to rectifying the situation. They have pledged additional resources, improved processes, and a renewed focus on resolving outstanding claims promptly. However, the affected individuals and their supporters remain skeptical, calling for tangible and immediate action to bring closure to this long-standing issue.
The Windrush scandal stands as a stark reminder of the injustices faced by marginalized communities and the need for systemic reforms to prevent such occurrences in the future. The failure to adequately compensate those who suffered as a result of the scandal raises broader questions about accountability, fairness, and the treatment of immigrants and minority groups within the UK’s immigration system.
As the government faces mounting pressure to address the outstanding compensation claims, it is imperative that swift action is taken to restore the dignity and financial stability of those who were wrongly classified as illegal immigrants. Only through comprehensive restitution and meaningful change can the wounds inflicted by the Windrush scandal begin to heal, and lessons be learned to prevent similar injustices from occurring again in the future.
Thousands without compensation
According to the latest Home Office statistics, 1,518 people have received compensation so far. Another 381 have had their claims refused or withdrawn due to ineligibility and 1,988 have claims that “meet the eligibility criteria” but have been awarded zero compensation. This suggests that of an estimated 15,000 victims believed to be eligible for compensation, some 90% have yet to receive any payout since the scandal broke five years ago.
Anna Steiner, a lawyer and academic who represents Windrush claimants, told CNN that the Windrush compensation scheme is “not fit for purpose.”
“The government has access to all the victims’ documents: health records, information from the passport office and their employment history. These are British people who have paid tax and national insurance, have worked for all their lives and the government has confirmed their status as UK citizens, and yet, victims are still being denied access to compensation for the harm caused to their lives,” Steiner said.
“Even when you’ve spent months gathering evidence, drafted clear statements, and have demonstrated a clear impact on (victims’) lives, applications are not assessed properly by the Home Office. There seems to be a bureaucratic tick-box attitude to the claims where people are not recognized as human beings,” Steiner added.
Thomas Tobierre was stripped of the right to work after being told he was not a British citizen and has subsequently received compensation, but his wife Caroline, who was also entitled to compensation under the Windrush scheme, only received her payment after she died with cancer.
“My wife had to work while she was ill – because I was not allowed to work because of the Home Office,” Tobierre told CNN.
“The level of evidence you have to produce is ridiculous – it is almost impossible to prove your status,” said Charlotte Tobierre, Thomas’ daughter. “Because they took so long to compensate, we ran out of time to enjoy life with my mum. The last year of my mum’s life was ruined – the Windrush scandal overshadowed my mum’s battle with cancer.
“When the compensation arrived, it just about covered the cost of her funeral.”
To make matters more complicated, the Windrush Compensation Scheme does not make allowances for legal costs in making claims, Steiner told CNN.
This means that many of the applicants who have been out of work and accumulated debt cannot afford the legal representation they need to help with their claims, Zita Holbourne, co-founder and national chair of anti-racism group Black Activists Rising Against Cuts and a Windrush campaigner, told CNN.
“Approaching its 75th anniversary, the government should be doing something to make the scheme accessible – and the scheme should take it out of the hands of the Home Office. People have no trust when applying because they are the same institution that detained, criminalized and deported the applicants in the first place,” Holbourne added.
Anthony Bryan, now 65, was 8 years old when he moved to Britain from Jamaica. He told CNN he was detained by the UK government on two separate occasions in 2017 – and was going to be deported to Jamaica by the Home Office until a last-minute intervention from his lawyers. He had also lost his job after he was asked for a right to work permit, he said, and he had been stripped of healthcare access after falling ill. Bryan could not claim benefits, as he did not have the required documents, he added.
His British nationality has since been reinstated. The Home Office has offered him – after deductions – £65,000 and he is appealing. His wife Janet, who is also entitled to compensation, is also appealing her offer under the scheme. Windrush Lives, an advocacy group and victim support network which is helping Janet, says the Home Office is currently disputing the £300 she is claiming for expenses after she repeatedly traveled to visit Bryan while he was wrongfully detained for five weeks.
The Home Office has not yet responded to CNN’s request for comment on these cases and its wider handling of the Windrush Compensation Scheme.
A hostile environment
According to the latest government statistics from the Home Office, 1,227 claimants are seeking a review. Meanwhile, the number of people being awarded zero compensation is continuing to rise – particularly over the past year. While in April 2022 there were only 26 applicants eligible but receiving zero compensation, a year later this number had risen almost six-fold to 152.
As the backlogs and rejections grow, Home Secretary Suella Braverman issued a statement in January that rowed back on three of the recommendations from the government-commissioned “Windrush Lessons Learned Review.”
These included the appointment of a migrants’ commissioner and the commitment to hold a series of “reconciliation events” with people affected, to “listen and reflect on their stories,” the Windrush Lessons Learned Review stated.
Subira Cameron-Goppy, who works as part of the Windrush Justice Clinic, providing support to victims, told CNN: “The UK government consistently double-down on their own mistakes and have failed to rectify their errors. These failures are a part of a continuation of the government’s hostile environment policy.”
In February 2023, the Conservative government published an assessment of the hostile environment policy’s impact between 2014 and 2018. The report concluded that the five nationalities most impacted by the policy were of Brown or Black heritage and all five were visibly not White.
Ramya Jaidev, a co-founder of Windrush Lives, told CNN that the hostile environment was not simply about “two or three specific policy errors but is the result of a series of increasing legislative push-backs that started in 1962 with the reduction of the rights of Black people. The attitude towards migrants is to phase them out. The Windrush Compensation Scheme is an extension of a hostile environment for Black and Brown people.”
For some people, any compensation awarded is too late. Taiwo Abiona arrived in the UK in the late 50s from Nigeria. He worked as a postman for the Royal Mail, paid taxes and got a British passport in the 1960s. After the death of his wife, Stella, he went to renew his passport – but he was told he was no longer a British citizen, his son, Kemi Abiona, told CNN.
“They said a change of policy in the 70s meant he had to reapply then – we didn’t know he had to reapply – as far as we’re concerned he was a British citizen. When my dad lost his passport, he was devastated, and his health quickly deteriorated. He had no access to proper healthcare because he did not have the documents,” Abiona told CNN.
“While he was sick, we had been told to apply for a new passport through the Windrush scheme and we were told he would get compensation,” Abiona added. He helped his father fill in the application himself, because they could not afford a lawyer. “I kept telling my dad we will have money soon,” Abiona said.
In 2020, Taiwo Abiona received a letter saying he had indefinite leave to stay and that he would be able to apply for UK citizenship after a period of living in the UK – despite having lived there for nearly 70 years. “We were told compensation was on the way so we could get a carer for my dad – but it was too late,” Abiona told CNN. His father died two weeks after being told by the Home Office he could stay in the UK.
A week after his death, the Home Office paid £5,000 compensation to cover some of the cost of his funeral, Kemi Abiona said. He is now making a Windrush compensation claim through the Home Office to save up for a headstone for his father’s grave.