As the inquest into the death of another of the Windrush scandal migrants concluded yesterday, I could not help but think about the scale of the issue at hand.
Dexter Bristol was a 58-year-old Grenadian man, who came to the UK at eight years old and died after what his family called 18 months of unbearable stress imposed by the Home Office. The coroner agreed that his application to remain in the UK was a “stressor” but believed he also had other stressors, including being anxious about the relationship with his mother, so ruled he died of natural causes.
His is the story of an individual, but the tragedy speaks to what, devastatingly, could become more and more common if nothing is done – a needless continuation of more deaths, illnesses and suffering thanks to invasive immigration controls. Bristol himself, you may recall, was so terrorised by the system that he avoided using NHS services in the two years before his death, for fear of being targeted.
It’s an issue that multiple health practitioners have spoken out about, particularly since the roll-out of charges for immigrants. Last year, an Ethiopian asylum seeker was denied chemotherapy when she was found ineligible for free care by the Home Office and NHS. She died at the age of 39 last month.
There are many more cases like these, some of which, no doubt, have yet to come to light, and others that will remain unknown to the general public. We need to start looking at this never-ending series of immigration scandals as a reflection of an enormous ideological problem, rather than a temporary, short-lived affront to a small selection of nationalities.
The Windrush scandal is often presented in finite terms, as something that was sufficiently exposed and handled a couple of years ago. But in reality there have been second and third rounds of failings since, drawing in migrants and refugees from other parts of the world under the unrelenting “hostile environment”.
The UK’s brutal approach to immigration took centre stage in 2012, when former prime minister Theresa May first uttered the words: “The aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration.” But this is an ongoing, historical problem. This is an extension of the reaction immigration has long elicited in Brits.
Over half a century ago, similar frustrations with the presence of Commonwealth citizens pushed the Tory government to make cruel and hasty provisions to restrict the influx of immigration to the UK, despite, again, having extended an invitation to these same countries not long before.
The 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act sought to restrict the number of Commonwealth citizens entering the UK by only permitting those with government-issued work vouchers to enter, with the exception of Windrush immigrants, who were granted settled status under the act, provided they had the documentation to prove it.
I’ve spoken to a number of people in Jamaica who have been sent back in the last few years with little guidance or help thanks to the Home Office
Former Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell referred to the first iteration of the Commonwealth Act, as a “cruel and brutal anti-colour legislation”. Claudia Jones – communist activist, pioneering newspaper editor and one of the founders of Notting Hill Carnival – saw the act as a deliberate attempt to restrict the flow of people of colour to the UK from British colonies, which had been encouraged after the Second World War.
In an opinion article for her West Indian Gazette newspaper in November 1961, Jones wrote: “The gauntlet is down. The Tory-gloved hands which held it palmed a Colour-Bar Bill to restrict immigration of coloured citizens.
“In England and throughout this multi-racial Commonwealth its peoples know that despite the hypocrisy and pretence, the Bill’s measures apply to immigration in general, in fact, it applied primarily and solely to prevent the entry and also the ejection of coloured citizens”.
It’s hard not to take the same position today considering the lengths the government has gone to in order to enforce the hostile environment, despite offering platitudes about failings when public outcry is particularly intense.
Take the deportation charter flight to Jamaica this year, from which six men were granted reprieve, after then home secretary Sajid Javid issued a blanket statement calling them “serious foreign criminals”. Or, a month later, the criticism of a charter deportation flight to Accra and Lagos for lacking “common decency” towards deportees, with the use of unnecessary restraint and no privacy when using the bathroom.
The abandonment of potential Windrush compensation claimants who have been deported is an issue too. I’ve spoken to a number of people in Jamaica, some of whom had been in the UK for the majority of their lives, who have been sent back in the last few years with little guidance or help thanks to the Home Office’s removal of funding for Jamaica’s National Organisation of Deported Migrants earlier this year.
Their names, as well as the names of people around the world who have been unfairly or unlawfully deported, may well remain unknown to us without intervention. But they, too, make up some of the many parts of this human rights failure.
So, how do we address the Windrush scandal, threats to the freedom of movement of EU citizens, restrictions imposed on students and doctors, unlawful deportations, detention centre deaths and abuse, and cases like Bristol’s at the same time?
We must acknowledge that these issues are all intertwined. There is no neat cut-off point for this and there probably won’t be in the near future, not while the Conservative Party continues pushing populist immigration policy, and Labour meekly offers to scrap some immigration controls as party policy. Not while we condemn the effects of our immigration system after people like Bristol have died, yet continue to support its existence.