The plight of the Windrush families and their British naturalisation is a topic quite close to my heart.
My father was born in India, you see. When WW2 broke out, he came to Britain, joined the RNR and as a ship’s doctor had quite a bad war in the Pacific, North Atlantic and Mediterranean. He held a British passport and settled as a GP in Bermondsey once the war ended in 1947. He obtained British naturalisation without difficulty, because he was a British subject and that did not change until the immigration act of 1948. After 1949, any foreign person whether from the Commonwealth or not, had to apply for naturalisation. There was at one time, concern that his children might not qualify for British citizenship, but this seems to have dissipated and I have had a British passport all my life. The point was, that he was here before the 1948 act came into force.
My father’s British citizenship was allowed because he came from what was then a Commonwealth country and British nationality was automatic. He always held a British passport.
The Home office according to the 1948 act have acted within the law but as in any government department they seem keen to apply the law in a draconian and uncaring fashion. Heartless really.
Many of the Windrush generation of immigrants came here on their parent’s passports. They were mostly in lower socioeconomic groups and so probably didn’t need to apply for passports early on (people didn’t travel so much in those days) and it seems for many they found the prospect of applying for a passport daunting once the Home Office regulations became well-known. They have ended up as citizens of Nowhere. Unable to get British nationality, they cannot return home either and become West Indian citizens – they have no papers.
Combined with this situation, many of them cannot afford the thousands of pounds to undergo naturalisation either. Despite this, they have lived in the UK since childhood as far back as the 50’s, contributed to the running of the NHS in various roles, paid taxes and been a valuable part of our society throughout.
The Romans treated their slaves in a similar way. If slaves had ability or knowledge, and they accumulated enough wealth, the Romans would eventually allow them to become ‘freedmen’. A freedman was not a Roman citizen and had none of the rights associated with that status. They too were citizens of Nowhere.
It is almost as if, an African shipped to the West Indies in chains becomes freed from slavery then comes to Britain and becomes some kind of second class freedman.
No rights, you see.
I saw what happened in Rwanda. Black people killing black people – no one in the international community seemed to care. I always wondered whether if they had been white or even coffee-coloured there was a greater chance of some nation stepping in to prevent the slaughter of 30,000 people with machetes and their bodies dumped in a river. Maybe, even though they were all black, if they had oil the world would have intervened.
I have a deep-down feeling that race, and skin colour contribute to the Windrush problem at its roots. It looks to me like an extension of colour prejudice. It isn’t obvious, it isn’t spoken about out loud, but I think it is there deeply embedded in foundations of this problem, like some malignant insect digging away at the roots of democracy, freedom and humanity.
And no one speaks out about it until now.
Our politicians? A wise man once said that poly is Greek for many and tics are blood-sucking parasites, but all the same, it isn’t only one party or government who have condoned the prejudicial treatment of a group of people welcomed here to help re-build after WW2; it has continued through all the governments since 1948.
I am nonplussed by the thought that there is not one of them in all those years and all those elected governments who was enough of a statesman to recognise the injustice and correct it.
Our present Government professes ignorance and hides behind that as a reason for not changing the law or at least making a specified exception to the rules. There are Government ministers who maintain that until recently they were unaware of the problem. Do you believe them?
Sorry folks, I don’t!