Britain's Home Secretary Amber Rudd arrives in Downing Street in central London. (Tolga AKMEN/AFP) Read more at https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/britain-apologises-to-caribbeans-threatened-with-deportation-10144304

LONDON - AFP
Britain apologises to Caribbeans threatened with deportation

The
British government on Monday (Apr 16) apologised to Caribbean citizens
who moved to Britain in the 1950s and 1960s and have been threatened
with deportation, agreeing to meet 12 leaders of countries affected
after initially turning them down.

Prime Minister Theresa May's
meeting on Tuesday will come ahead of a summit of Commonwealth leaders
this week, after more than 140 British MPs demanded her government stop
treating members of the Windrush generation as illegal migrants.

"There
is absolutely no question about their right to remain and I am very
sorry for any confusion or anxiety felt," interior minister Amber Rudd
told parliament during an emergency debate.

After the arrival of
the first group of West Indian immigrants on the ship Empire Windrush in
1948, many more followed to help rebuild Britain in the wake of World
War II.

They were given indefinite leave to remain, a situation
which changed with a 1971 law - but many who failed to get their papers
in order are now being treated as undocumented or illegal migrants.

An online petition to parliament, calling for an "amnesty" for the Windrush generation, had almost 150,000 signatures on Monday.




Also facing fury from opposition lawmakers, who condemned a "national
shame", Rudd announced a new taskforce to help those affected to
regularise their immigration status swiftly and for free.

Pressed
over the years-long clampdown on illegal immigration by the
Conservative-led government, she also admitted that her department could
"sometimes lose sight of the individual".

However, she said she
did not believe anyone had actually been deported, although there have
been media reports of people who were only saved by the last-minute
intervention of lawyers.


'NO LONGER WELCOME'

The
row has been brewing for some months but has erupted just as leaders of
the 53 Commonwealth countries gather in London for their biennial heads
of government meeting.

"When the Commonwealth heads of government
are gathered in London, what a disgrace it is that this government has
treated Commonwealth migrants in this way," Labour lawmaker Diane Abbott
said.

Guy Hewitt, the London-born High Commissioner to Barbados,
told BBC radio that he felt "the country of my birth is saying to people
of my region you are no longer welcome on my shores".

"Because
they came from British colonies which were not independent they felt
they were British subjects, they felt there was no need for them to
recognise their status," he said.

"And now, 40, 50 years on they
are being told by the Home Office that they are illegal immigrants. They
are being shut out of the system, some of them detained, others have
been deported."


'IMMORAL AND INHUMANE'

Opposition
Labour lawmaker David Lammy, whose parents were from Guyana, organised a
letter of cross-party MPs against what he said was a "grotesque,
immoral and inhumane" situation.

The letter highlights how
uncertainty surrounding people's immigration status has affected their
right to work, to rent homes, to receive pensions or even access
healthcare.

Lammy told MPs it was an issue "of national shame".

Earlier,
the prime minister's spokesman said May "deeply values the contribution
made by these and all Commonwealth citizens who have made a life in the
UK".

"If there have been problems which people have been put through, that clearly would be a matter of regret," he added.

Commonwealth
Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, who herself moved to Britain from
Dominica when she was two years old, said the issue was one for
individual countries to resolve with London.

She said it would be a
"very challenging" week in general, adding: "Some of the internal
issues have to remain just that, whatever your own personal views."

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