Windrush scandal: Victims and campaigners speak at Willesden public meeting chaired by MP Dawn Butler
PUBLISHED: 11:03 31 May 2018 | UPDATED: 13:45 31 May 2018
The storm didn't stop people flowing into the Willesden New Testament Church of God for a meeting about the Windrush scandal on Tuesday afternoon.
The advisory meeting was organised by Dawn Butler MP so her constituents could get help from legal experts.
Bob Marley’s Redemption Song played in the background as people impacted by hostile immigration policies filed in and filled the pews.
Ms Butler, the shadow minister for women and equalities and MP for Brent Central, told the Times: “Theresa May is responsible for this hostile environment and should step-down.
“I think the heartache she has caused a generation of people who came and rebuilt this country after the war is unforgivable.
“They were so dignified in the face of abuse and racism and for them to have to face this hostility years later is not becoming of a Prime Minister.”
There was a short panel discussion, chaired by by Paulette Simpson, from Jamaica National Bank and Voice Newspaper, before people attended sessions with Brent Citizens Advice Bureau, Brent Law Centre and the Home Office taskforce set up to deal with Windrush cases.
Jacqueline McKenzie, an immigration solicitor at McKenzie Beute & Pope, said: “Government policy has made it very difficult for migrants and undocumented migrants to survive.”
She added “hostile environment” legislation enacted between 2011 and 2014 turned institutions like banks, schools and hospitals into immigration enforcers.
Jacqueline had represented Dexter Bristol, who moved to the UK in 1968 and tragically died two months ago.
Dexter was denied benefits in 2016 because he couldn’t prove his right to residency in the UK.
In 2017 he was fired from his cleaning job because he didn’t have a British passport.
An inquest into his death is ongoing, but Jaqueline believes he took his own life.
She said: “He was so depressed because it had never occurred to him between 1968 and 2017 that he might have been anything other than British.
“He had never held a Grenadian passport and Grenada didn’t exist as a constitutional country when he left it.
“On March 29 we put a letter in the post to him just to cheer him up and let him know we were going to get through this. He died that night and among his possessions is that unopened letter.”
Lisa Choong, who lives in Brent, was there to seek legal advice. She told the Times she arrived in the UK in 1989 on a Malaysian passport but lost her job at Iceland in 2016 because she didn’t have a biometric card.
She said she already has indefinite leave to remain and buying a no time limit biometric card is too expensive for people on low wages. The cheapest card costs £458.
“The card is an ID and I do think it’s an invasion into privacy,” said Lisa.
“This is a free country so why must we carry ID cards?”
David Neita, barrister and senior spokesperson at the Society of Black Lawyers, told the audience: “I can’t help but think our mental health is being affected by this onslaught that we are experiencing.
“I don’t know when it became legitimate for the leader of a nation to employ hostility against a section of the community – it’s absolutely wrong.
“A former Prime Minister of this country said never in history has so much been owed by so many to so few. And he wasn’t talking about you – he was talking about those who died in the battle of Britain.
“But I believe his statement is applicable to you because every time we walk in the NHS, the public transport system, or into the cultural sector, your legacy is there.”
Earlier that day, Jacqueline spoke to someone who had been sent home from his job despite having circumstantial evidence of his right to work, and the publicity that now surrounds the Windrush scandal.
She also mentioned a man not getting his biometric residence permit because of a criminal conviction for a driving offence in the 1970s.
She said: “The hostile environment is continuing unabated and we must not let our guard down when we hear platitudes coming from the Home Office and government – because the system is terrible.”