As some of you might know, 22 June is Windrush Day, named after the famous Empire Windrush ship that docked in Britain carrying several hundred Caribbean workers. These workers were invited from British Commonwealth countries which were former British colonies to come to the “motherland” and help rebuild the country following World War II. In this documentary, historian, David Olusoga examines how the Windrush arrivals were received and the devastating immigration policies that impacted them and their children.
I am a Commonwealth immigrant myself and no stranger to the vagueries of the Home Office. My situation is somewhat different to that of many immigrants. I am white and I speak English as if it were my first language, so I am a “good” immigrant. Although I have been a British citizen for almost eight years, I have followed immigration policy closely and the “Windrush Scandal” was something I was very aware of. I won’t go into the detail of the scandal here as it’s explained much better in the documentary that I could ever do it but essentially the children of the Windrush arrivals were never officially granted British citizenship and many of them (despite living in the UK all their lives) were suddenly declared illegal immigrants.
What I was less aware of was the insidious and calculated way in which the Home Office set up the plan that lead to the Windrush Scandal. It was not a horrible administrative oversight, it was intentional and deliberate plan that was perpetuated over generations specifically to target Black immigrants.
This documentary combines the historical context through archive footage, media coverage and official documents (many of which were purposefully hidden) with the stories of individuals whose lives were impacted by Home Office policy.
It’s a hard watch. The Windrush immigrants were invited and encouraged to come to Britain but met with abject hostility by many of the communities they joined. Many had served in the British military and felt that they were doing a duty to a country they regarded as a second home and were rejected despite their hard work and commitment to the industries in which they worked from healthcare to transport, construction and administration. The Hostile Environment Policy turned their children into illegal immigrants despite the fact that many of them had not left the UK since they were small children and had no connection to their countries of birth. They lost their jobs, were arrested and treated like criminals.
I would highly recommend watching this to anyone who is not aware of the Windrush generation or just how shady the Home Office is or to anyone who thinks systemic racism is an America thing. Educating ourselves to the history of our own country (whether adopted or by birth) is the first step to understanding what we need to do to change.