IT is shamefully appropriate that the Windrush scandal – which has seen retirement-age citizens who arrived from the Caribbean as children between 1948 and 1971 being denied services and threatened with deportation - should coincide with the 50th anniversary of Enoch Powell’s notorious “rivers of blood” speech which symbolised a racism we hoped had been left in the past.
The stories in recent weeks of people who have lived almost all their lives in this country suddenly losing their homes and their jobs, being told they will have to pay for medical treatment and being held in detention centres have been heartbreaking.
Prime Minister Theresa May eventually issued an apology of sorts and her government is belatedly attempting to set things right. But for months, when cases were raised there was no sympathy from the government. Mrs May even refused initially to meet the 12 Caribbean heads of government who wanted to voice their concerns during last week’s Commonwealth summit.
And the crucial point in all this is that the cruelty suffered by the Windrush immigrants – who were invited to the UK to help rebuild the country after the Second World War – is not a mistake, it is the result of a deliberate policy.
In her previous job as Home Secretary, Mrs May set out to create a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants. That involved not only vans touring the streets with the message “Go home or face arrest” but also an increase on checks on individuals’ immigration status. The Windrush generation were, of course, legal immigrants. But in many cases there were no papers from the time to prove that and some had never left the UK since then and so did not have UK passports.
That is what has led to the appalling catalogue of cases of honest, law-abiding citizens who have lived and worked here for 60 years or more suddenly receiving letters telling them they have “no lawful basis to remain”.
And a leaked private memo has revealed Home Secretary Amber Rudd promised Mrs May she would give officials more “teeth” to hunt down illegal migrants and increase the number of deportations by ten per cent, partly funded by diverting money from crime-fighting to immigration enforcement.
Only a small proportion of the Windrush generation made their way to Edinburgh. But Scotland’s first black professor Sir Geoff Palmer, who lives in Penicuik, was one. He came to the UK in 1955 to join his mother who had been made the move from Jamaica seven years earlier.
He has spoken movingly about how people from the Caribbean felt they were coming to the mother country and the impact of the recent crackdown. “Probably the worst thing in the world is to be treated badly by your mother country. It is almost unpardonable.”
And asked what the scandal says about UK Government attitudes to migrants, he said: “When we put prejudices like racism into law, we end up with terrible deeds like the Windrush [scandal]. We can’t go around saying this was unconscious. It was conscious – and you can’t apologise for things that are conscious.”
In 1968 Powell was quickly sacked from the shadow cabinet by the then Tory leader Ted Heath for his shockingly racist and inflammatory speech attacking immigration and calling for people to be helped to go “home”.
Today, Theresa May and Amber Rudd remain in office.
READ MORE: Who are the Windrush generation?