Windrush generation fear hotline will be used for data gathering

Amber Rudd’s pledges of help for the Windrush generation have failed to reassure them that they will be safe from deportation if they use the hotline but cannot meet the standard of proof required to remain in the UK.

David Lammy, the Tottenham MP who has led the campaign at Westminster, said he was hearing from people who were still afraid.

“They have feared detention and deportation if they raise their cases with the Home Office. Windrush children need a guarantee that this helpline will not be used as an information gathering service for immigration enforcement,” he said.

What is the Windrush deportation crisis?

Who are the Windrush generation?

They are people who arrived in the UK after the second world war from Caribbean countries at the invitation of the British government. The first group arrived on the ship MV Empire Windrush in June 1948.

What is happening to them?

An estimated 50,000 people face the risk of deportation if they never formalised their residency status and do not have the required documentation to prove it.

Why is this happening now?

It stems from a policy, set out by Theresa May when she was home secretary, to make the UK ‘a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants’. It requires employers, NHS staff, private landlords and other bodies to demand evidence of people’s citizenship or immigration status.

Why do they not have the correct paperwork and status?

Some children, often travelling on their parents’ passports, were never formally naturalised and many moved to the UK before the countries in which they were born became independent, so they assumed they were British. In some cases, they did not apply for passports. The Home Office did not keep a record of people entering the country and granted leave to remain, which was conferred on anyone living continuously in the country since before 1 January 1973.

What is the government doing to resolve the problem?

On Monday, the home secretary Amber Rudd announced the creation of a new Home Office team dedicated to ensuring that Commonwealth-born long-term UK residents would no longer find themselves classified as being in the UK illegally.

Rudd came under pressure to make more detailed promises of protection as MPs on the cross-party home affairs select committee prepared to question her on Wednesday.

One committee member, Stephen Doughty, said his casework had got much worse as the government’s “hostile environment” strategy on immigration was ratcheted up.

“There are repeated errors, mistakes and misjudgements as a result of the hostile environment policy and this has impacted on real people’s lives and that of their families. It is not just a simple error that can be brushed away. It can be literally life-changing.”

In her Commons statement, Rudd insisted that the information gathered in the helpline would not be used to remove people from the country, saying “it’s purpose is to help and support”.

Ministers discussed the fallout from the Windrush scandal at the weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday, with Boris Johnson understood to have called for a broader immigration “amnesty” for longstanding Commonwealth migrants.

The foreign secretary told colleagues that the move – which did not include those with criminal records – would exempt other groups of migrants from having to produce reams of paperwork to prove that they had been living in Britain for years.

Theresa May was said to have responded “acidly” by pointing out that Johnson had previously called for an amnesty for people in the UK illegally, both during his time as London mayor and during the EU referendum campaign.

May ruled out an amnesty during her time as home secretary, claiming it would send “the wrong message”. The Home Office has also ruled out the option.

Lammy said on Tuesday afternoon that had been approached by at least nine Windrush-era migrants in his constituency in the last 12 hours.

One was a man who had arrived from Jamaica at the age of six. His documentation failed to satisfy Home Office checks, and he had been warned that he could be deported any time after seven days had elapsed.

Lammy tweeted: “Why is my constituent being treated like an illegal immigrant despite providing documentation from 1964? This is an outrageous miscarriage of justice. Grant him his citizenship and passport.”

Rudd promised to speed up the process of applying for citizenship, and waive the fees and knowledge test for migrants from Commonwealth countries who could show they had been in Britain before 1988.

Most of the new cases sent to Lammy were from the Caribbean, but migrants from other Commonwealth countries who have been in the UK for almost all their lives are coming forward. He said the rush of cases demonstrated that Windrush-era people had been too scared to come forward.

The home secretary needed to be clear about what she meant when she said the burden of proof would be shifted from the applicant, he said.

“Windrush children urgently need details about what this means in practice. What exactly is the burden of proof?”

“What happens if an individual does not meet this threshold – are their details going to be passed to immigration enforcement so they can be detained or deported?”

There is also concern about Rudd’s promise to expand the use of discretion by Home Office officials. Although it indicates less of a tick-box approach, it also offers less certainty.

Chai Patel, of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said people should seek legal advice before contacting the Home Office.

He said Rudd’s promise that there would be no removals was not one that the Home Office could make, particularly while it was uncertain about the new threshold of proof.

“Of course relaxing the standards will help some people, but there are still some people who won’t be able to prove what’s being asked of them. For those people who are then ultimately told, you haven’t met the requirements … what’s going to happen to their data?

“We don’t want people to panic. We think the helpline will help, but we think it is really important that people get independent legal advice.”

Patel said one solution would be for the Home Office to undertake to destroy the data of any applicants ultimately unable to prove their right to become British citizens.

MPs are putting Rudd under pressure to reveal plans for compensation. Home Office insiders said officials had been trying to come up with a solution for those who had suffered financial loss.

The resulting scheme is likely to include payments for loss of income and benefits, legal fees, air fares and accommodation costs. However, tailoring compensation to individuals would almost certainly slow down the process.

The shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, told MPs that compensation must be more than just a “token amount” paid to every victim. Government insiders are thought to agree.

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