Editorial | Put the sails back on Windrush
There is a feeling that the Windrush issue has slipped down, if not fallen off, the agenda of priorities for Jamaica and other Caribbean countries. We hope that’s a mistaken perception.
It was noticeable, though, that this past Monday, June 22, observed in Britain as Windrush Day, there was no statement to mark the day by either Prime Minister Andrew Holness, his foreign minister, Kamina Johnson Smith, or anyone else in the Government. Neither did the political Opposition offer remarks, which is surprising, even just for the coincidence of Windrush Day with the global demonstrations for racial justice for black people, triggered by the police killing in the United States of the African-American man, George Floyd.
While it slipped Jamaica, Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, and the country’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, remembered, although Mr Johnson’s critics claim it was an opportunity for him to fudge on the question of race in the UK, despite his praise for the “fantastic contribution” of the Windrush generation and their children.
Windrush Day marks the 1948 arrival in England of a former British troopship, Empire Windrush, which had sailed from Kingston with hundreds of Jamaicans and other West Indians, marking the beginning of significant black and non-white immigration to the UK in the years after the Second World War. Many of those aboard the Windrush had served in the war and were returning to be part of Britain’s post-war rebuilding.
As citizens of the colonies, they were automatically British subjects, or so they and their offspring thought – until they were being humiliated several decades later in the face of the Tory government’s push to create a “hostile environment” for supposedly illegal immigrants. In the 2000s, many of the Windrush generation, without documents to prove their British status, were being deported to countries they left as young people, or children, or to which they had never been. Others lost their jobs and were declined state benefits.
When the scale of the scandal emerged during the tenure of former Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May, one minister was forced to resign. Mrs May established a group to determine the number of Windrush generation victims and how they should be compensated. Jamaica and other Caribbean countries, whose citizens are among the victims, have legitimate interests in the matter.
However, the Caribbean’s engagement appears to have ebbed, even though many Windrush generation victims baulked at compensations they believed too paltry for the economic losses and indignities they suffered.
The Windrush scandal, though, transcends an ageing group of mostly Afro-Caribbean Britons. It is largely a symptom of systemic racism against blacks and other minority ethnic groups in Britain, as was highlighted by the commission that reviewed Stephen Lawrence’s murder of a quarter-century ago, and as is being highlighted again in the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing.
The renewed spotlight on race has sent Mr Johnson into a paroxysm of deflective hand-wringing. He has promised a new commission to look into racial inequalities, which is being ridiculed as unnecessary, given the volumes of studies and analyses and reports on the subject. “It feels like, yet again in the UK, we want figures, data, but we don’t want action,” said the shadow justice minister, David Lammy.
We are willing to give Mr Johnson the benefit of the doubt on the broad issue of racial injustice in the UK. Let him have his commission. His government, however, must do right by the Windrush generation. Our Government should make it clear to this group that they have a strong ally in Jamaica. That, in any event, is an obligation owed to those of them who are our citizens.