Where is the justice, Suella Braverman, for me and the others whose lives were ruined by the Windrush scandal? | Judy Griffith
It has been clear for a long time that this government is not interested in learning lessons from the Windrush scandal that ruined so many lives, including my own. So I’m not surprised that the home secretary, Suella Braverman, has decided not to implement key reforms that had previously been accepted.
Among the changes that have been abandoned is a commitment to hold reconciliation events in which the people affected would have had the chance to talk to ministers and Home Office staff about the impact of the scandal on their lives. This is a huge missed opportunity – for the government to show that it is truly sorry, and for us to come together and have our experiences acknowledged.
Like so many others, when this nightmare started, I felt as if I was the only one. Everyone was hiding, keeping it secret, not knowing what to do or who to turn to. Even people who were close friends were hiding it from each other. Gathering people together would have helped them to feel less alone, and that yes, this is going to be with us for the rest of our lives, but at least we have a forum to talk about how we feel and how we’ve been able to move on. It would have been a form of therapy.
In also abandoning a commitment to create the post of a migrants’ commissioner to identify problems with the immigration system as well as a pledge to increase the powers of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, Braverman is making it very clear that the government does not care about immigrants – past, present, or future.
The experience of being told that I wasn’t a citizen of this country left me terrified. I came here from Barbados in 1963, when I was eight years old. I’ve been working here since I got my first paper round near our home in Bedford, at the age of 12. I spent my teenage years listening to the new sounds that were coming over from the US and the Caribbean; seeing Mary Quant and the miniskirt and all that. I had my three children here, and have paid taxes all my working life.
Then, after 52 years, to have to prove that I had the right to be here, and to know that I could be sent to Yarl’s Wood detention centre and deported any day – it’s not something you recover from. It leaves a wound that is there continually, and that keeps being reopened with every new thing that happens. This latest announcement just confirms that the government has no real understanding of what people like me have been through.
In my case, after losing my job and applying for others in 2014, it came to light that I was officially classed as an “illegal immigrant”. It was an enormous shock. My Barbados passport, which had my stamp showing I had indefinite leave to remain, had been lost in the post a few years earlier.
I used up all my savings getting lawyers to prove my status. I was unable to work or travel, which meant I could not visit my mother in Barbados or attend her funeral. I got into rent arrears and narrowly avoided eviction. And, because of all the stress, I have developed a long-term health condition.
Despite everything I’ve been through, I still consider myself one of the lucky ones. I’ve been able to come out on the better side of this, thanks to my faith in God. I have received compensation, and I do now have a British passport – although it’s only dated from 2018, as though I dropped out of the sky into this country.
But a lot of people are still waiting for compensation – many of them died without ever receiving it, or after being deported. What about all of them? I’m very aware that if I hadn’t had boxes of paperwork going back to the 1970s, I might not be here at all.
Whether it’s Grenfell or Windrush, this is a government that seems to like writing reports, but not actually implementing what comes out of them. They need to have more consideration for the citizens of the UK. It’s pointless saying you want to learn lessons and then reneging on every promise. It feels as though there’s no justice.
I always loved England, and I do still love it, as bad as things have been. But I don’t feel safe here any more. This whole experience has left me feeling very vulnerable. And the stress doesn’t go away. My right to stay here has to be renewed next year, and I don’t know what will happen. How can any of us trust a system that shows us its true colours like this time and time again? The only thing I feel sure of is that you cannot rely on anything they say.
Judy Griffith is a retired healthcare worker from north London
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