When I was an undergraduate majoring in European Studies, I did a research project for a seminar class on the subject of migration. Being from the West Indies myself, I decided to focus on the Windrush; a period of migration of people from British West Indian colonies to Great Britain.
Considering the recent Windrush scandal, I started wondering what I would have said if I had to write that research paper now.
The Windrush Scandal, brought to light by the Guardian, refers to those legal migrants and their children of the Windrush era, erroneously determined to be in the UK illegally as a result of a ‘hostile environment’ policy initiated by then Home Secretary and now Prime Minister, Theresa May. This has caused massive upheaval in the lives of those singled out as they deal with detention under threat of deportation, and loss of their jobs, all while being unable to access healthcare and other public welfare services. This has led to the resignation of May’s successor, Amber Rudd. The new Home Secretary, Savid Javid, is now attempting to rectify the situation.
Just to give a quick summary of the Windrush, I’m going to excerpt myself here with a paragraph from the aforementioned paper:
On 24th May, 1948 a ship set sail. This ship was a captured German steamer named the Empire Windrush. It could accommodate about one thousand men and usually sailed between Britain and Mexico. This particular day however, the Empire Windrush was embarking from a port in Jamaica, filled with hopeful, expectant immigrants originating from all over the British West Indies, including Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and British Honduras. The passengers were mostly men, soldiers continuing their enlistment in the army after World War II; others were planters, civil servants and students seeking greater opportunity in the motherland. They had jumped at the opportunity to gain passage, queuing up to pay the special one-way fare of £28.10. They were full of romantic notions of what the land they had been raised to love and believe they belonged to would be like.
West Indian migration to the UK in the aftermath of WWII up until sometime in the 70’s, was an era of great cultural, political, and personal introspection. I think it’s essential to talk about identity when discussing this subject, because for many of those involved, it has thrown their entire perspective of their identity into crisis. The country where a person was born, the language they speak, all of that is just circumstantial. In many ways, identity is a choice, and that’s what makes recent events all the more painful and heinous for those affected.
The Windrush generation came over to Britain with high hopes and for many, the reality turned out to be cold. They endured discrimination and in some cases, homelessness, as they sought to rebuild the land, giving of themselves through labour, culture, and arts. They did not only add to Britain, they helped transform it.
So what would I have said differently? There would only have been a slight amendment. My paper concluded that “Race and immigration would continue to be points of contention moving into the twentieth century”. It should be the twenty-first century. We humans continue to fight battles that should have already been concluded. Xenophobia is on the upswing. We repeat ourselves again and again. The men and women of the Windrush Generation deserve better from the land they call home.