Local residents have launched a campaign to protect them from deportation threats.
Bristol residents are speaking up on the Home Office’s mistreatment of British Caribbean residents, who are being targeted as illegal immigrants by the Home Office despite their right to remain – and residing in the UK since migrating as children in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.
A petition to stop the Home Office threatening to deport British Caribbean citizens surpassed its target of 100,000 signatures over the weekend. The issue will now be considered for a debate in parliament. A separate petition, started by Bristol Lord Mayor and councillor Cleo Lake, has reached almost 20,000 signatures.
Lake’s petition calls on the Home Office to stop the “harsh, hostile treatment” with immediate effect, and describes the impact on British Caribbean citizens: “They have families and lives here and are being callously uprooted; are in danger of becoming destitute; are being refused life saving treatment and are becoming seriously unwell due to the stress of their situation.”
The Home Office has sent numerous Caribbean elders, who have lived in the UK for decades, letters asking them to prove their legal status. The burden of proof is huge: individuals must provide one to four pieces of documentary evidence of residence for every year spent in the UK. Unable to meet these demands, some have lost jobs and homes and have been refused pensions, state benefits, and NHS care. Others have been locked up in detention centres.
“They have families and lives here and are being callously uprooted; are in danger of becoming destitute; are being refused life saving treatment and are becoming seriously unwell due to the stress of their situation”
Under the 1971 Immigration Act, all Commonwealth citizens already living in the UK were given indefinite leave to remain. Citizens were apparently told to ‘register’ with the Home Office, but many may not have done so. The Home Office did not keep a record of those granted leave to remain, nor issue any paperwork confirming it.
Speaking to the Cable, Lake said, “There are a variety of reasons that people may not have registered. The message might not have reached everyone. Some people didn’t want to give up their Caribbean identity because they genuinely thought they might be here for five years, not 45 years. Other people have told me stories of how they were working more hours than we would work today, juggling it all with children. How many times do we not get round to something? Or missed a letter through the post or it’s gone to the wrong address?”
Worried elders in Bristol have approached Lake and Bristol Refugee Rights. Along with representatives from the Malcolm X community centre, African Connections Consortium, Global African Parliament, Greens of Colour, and the national petition’s instigator Patrick Vernon, Lake has launched a local campaign to stop these deportation threats. Part of the campaign is to lobby MPs and ensure this gets debated in parliament.
“I can’t imagine the level of stress among these elders. It’s a huge slap in the face as we approach Windrush 70. The thought that any member of our community, who has been here most of their lives, could end up in [immigration removal centre] Yarl’s Wood at any moment is beyond belief,” said Lake. “It’s part of this ‘hostile environment’ policy.” The ‘hostile environment’ describes Theresa May’s 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts that have forced NHS workers, bank staff, and landlords, among others to check people’s immigration status and documentation, acting as proxy border force officials.
Lake sees the deportation threats as the latest symptom of structural racism. She cites local examples, such as Avon and Somerset police tasering Ras Judah Abunbi, a 63-year-old grandfather and respected local elder, in a case of mistaken identity last year. Another example is the recent case in a secondary school in Bath where last month “white year 10 and 11 students tied up and whipped a black student in a ‘slave auction’”. The students were not expelled.
“The thought that any member of our community, who has been here most of their lives, could end up in Yarl’s Wood at any moment is beyond belief”
Before raising his urgent question in parliament, Lammy had written to Theresa May, urging her to give citizens concerned secure rights. His letter has amassed signatures from 140 MPs from six parties, including Labour MP for Bristol East, Kerry McCarthy.
McCarthy told the Cable, “Bristol is home to a great many people who arrived as part of the ‘Windrush generation’. They have made Bristol their home and made a great contribution to city life. I’ve dealt with a number of cases where difficulties have arisen because people did not regularise their immigration status or, in some cases, did not even realise that anything needed to be done.”
Thangam Debbonaire, MP for Bristol West, told the Cable, “These people are fully entitled to remain. The state willingly accepted their contributions over a lifetime of paying taxes and national insurance, but they suddenly hit problems when they reach retirement age and claim state pension.”
In parliament yesterday, Rudd announced a new Home Office team to help the “this cohort” to evidence their right to be in the country. She stated that the team will be “tasked with resolving cases within two weeks of evidence being provided” and that individuals will not need to pay for documentation.
It is not clear from Rudd’s announcement what will happen if the evidence cannot be found, and whether the Home Office could ask migrants from other Commonwealth countries to provide proof of their legal right to remain in the near future.