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The Windrush Scandal - the Hostile Environment Continues

Guest Author
The Windrush Scandal - the Hostile Environment Continues
Rev.Clive,Linda & Shankea.jpg

Rev Clive, Linda and Shankea

In September last year, I came across an article in the Peterborough Telegraph about local Resident Shankea Stewart, and asked our MP if I could help. I set up a 38 degrees petition, through the MP's office, with Shankea's permission. Shankea messaged me, and we met. This is her story.

Shankea came to the UK in 2002 aged 12 following her Father and Grandfather, a Windrush immigrant. She is now 29 years old. She has applied for indefinite leave to remain on numerous occasions and each time has been rejected.

Shankea lived with her Father as a child in London. She was eventually brought to Peterborough to live with two Aunties who were able to support her. She has lived here ever since with an incredible 'surrogate Mum'; someone who has "literally taken me under her wing," many cousins, friends and a large supportive church community.

Shankea worked hard at school and achieved three A Levels in Government & Politics, Sociology & English Literature. She applied to University to study Politics and Sociology and was accepted at all five Universities she applied to. She found she could not take up a place because she couldn't access a student loan due to not having a National Insurance Number.

It was at this point, now 10 years ago, that Shankea's fight to remain in the UK started.

Shankea has no way of earning a living and has never received benefits. She is not allowed to work. She desperately wants to work in the country that provided her education, but she hasn't got the correct papers. Her 'surrogate Mum' provides for her. Her Aunts, church community and friends help her afford to live, but she is constantly living on the breadline. She lives by a strict budget, on "sheer blessings & luck."
Shankea lives in constant fear of having to leave the country she has called her home for 17 years. “I was 12 when I came here. I was a young girl dependent on my parents". “I’ve never claimed benefits and I don’t have a criminal record. I was not given the opportunity to obtain my degree, to work. What’s the point in existing? I’m a strong woman, but it’s hard. It feels so cruel.” Shankea contributes to her community by doing voluntary work, mentoring young women.

Her mother passed away in Jamaica last year. Shankea missed her Mother’s funeral in Jamaica as she feared she wouldn’t be able to return to the UK if she had travelled over for it.

Her most recent Home Office application was declined on the grounds that she could maintain her relationships in the UK online from Jamaica.

The Government wants to deport her to Jamaica. A place she doesn't know any more. She asks "Where would I live? Where would I start? What would people think of me? I don't think I would fit in there. I am very outspoken here in England, but this is frowned upon in Jamaica." The Home Office say her Father can visit her in Jamaica but they are not taking his illness into consideration.

How would it feel to be sent to live in a strange place away from everything and everyone you have grown up with? It is a cruel and inhumane act for any Government to consider, and would inevitably lead to psychological pain and suffering.

Shankea is a proud young woman who deserves better. She says, " I could have got myself pregnant in order to stay, but that's not me, I don't want to do it that way."

The judge has told Shankea she 'doesn't have enough family life here.' But what is a family if it's not a close knit community of relatives and friends?

Shankea signs a list every month to prove to the Home Office she is still in Peterborough and complying. She insists on doing everything 'aboveboard.' All her important documents are with the Home Office: birth certificate; Jamaican passport; school papers; leaving certificates; medical records; everything to mark every year she has been here. Part of Shankea's identity is in a file miles away, held by the Home Office.
Shankea has made her life here and wants to stay. All her friends and family want her to stay.

Every time she makes an appeal, the solicitor, barrister and court fees total around £2,000. This is a huge sum of money to raise. It is a credit to Shankea's family and community that they manage to help her raise this sum each time.

This inhumane treatment is a result of the Government's continuing hostile environment towards Windrush families and descendants.

The British Government invited people from the Caribbean in the late 1940's, to help rebuild the country after the 2nd World War, to work in services such as public transport, hospitals and factories. Thousands of people from Caribbean countries have worked hard, paid their taxes and built their lives in the UK. Part of that involved integrating into life here and having families. The children and grandchildren of such families have a right to be automatically accepted into our society; to live, work and access services in the UK. The British Government have responsibility for the duty of care and protection of these citizens and their descendants.

It is incomprehensible to me that the Home Office can keep deferring cases such as Shankea's, thus putting lives on hold. She has been bound by invisible chains that have restricted her from living a psychological safe life for over 10 years. This young woman has such potential it's painful to see it being tethered by government bureaucracy. This is truly inhumane treatment. On a practical level, there is no sense in it. She could have been paying her taxes for 10 years.

I have included a link below for Shankea's petition to help her obtain indefinite leave to remain in the UK, which will be presented to the Home Secretary Sajid Javid. She needs as many signatures as possible. Thank you.

The following is a quote from Clive Foster Senior Minister of the Pilgrim Church in Nottingham where Shankea attended an event on December 14th 2018, at which several Windrush residents told their harrowing stories.

"Shankea's story and indomitiable spirit caught the attention of the public when she courageously spoke out about her situation on news networks, national newspapers and social media. Her inspiring story was picked up by Reverend Clive Foster activist and co-founder of Nottinghamshire Windrush Support Forum set up to campaign and support Windrush Generation and descendants affected by the Windrush Scandal. Shankea shared her story in December with the Forum which inspired the group to action by signing up to the related petitions and to look for ways to creatively provide financial support."

It's not easy for Shankea to keep sharing her personal information publicly. She does this, in part, to give others the courage to share their stories. People have been scared to share for fear of repercussions. The stories are important. They put a human face to this injustice.

Legal Perspective: Shankea's story demonstrates the numerous hurdles and financial demands set upon foreign nationals living in the UK. Having had sight of Shankea’s case, myself and my supervisor have many questions; including, despite subsequent applications, why, whilst she was a minor (12 years old) she was not granted indefinite leave to remain on the basis that at the time of her application, her father had settled status in the UK and parental responsibility for her.

This reminds me of numerous similar cases and specifically one published in the press concerning a British born child who was left stranded and stateless in Belgium after the Home Office revoked his British passport, upon the rationale that the Home Office believed that it had been issued by mistake. If the Home Office can retrospectively revoke someone’s status, despite the act of doing so potentially being disproportionate to their European Conventions Human Rights, as legislated within the UK’s Human Rights Act 1998, then why does it appear to be difficult to reassess a potential historic caseworker error that in Shankea’s case has led to over 18 years of insecurity and degrading treatment?

Furthermore, it appears unfair to penalise someone who at the time of coming to the UK, under the care and direction of her parents, was a minor and therefore unaware of the impact of her precarious immigration status until reaching the age of 18; when she became conscious of her situation when applying to University.

It is for her current legal experts to assess what to do next regarding her legal case, and what remedy to pursue and investigate why she was refused indefinite leave to remain whilst she was a minor; which will most probably involve the further expense for judicial review. And therefore, the very pressing need for her campaign to continually be financially supported. Her resilience throughout is inspirational.

The hostile environment changes that the Government made whilst our current Prime Minister Mrs. Theresa May was Home Secretary, came into force from the 9th July 2012. One of the changes was to replace the 14-year rule with the 20-year rule. This, as Shankea’s case demonstrates, has had a profound effect on those without an immigration status in the UK, especially those who came to the UK as minors. As Shankea has experienced, even those who are a meagre 10 months off having spent half their lives in the UK between the ages of 18 and 25, still are found not to qualify under the current strict interpretation of the immigration rules. There is scope to apply and demonstrate exceptional and compelling circumstances, family ties etc, all of which have been included within Shankea’s applications and court case but in my personal opinion have been subjectively and disproportionately dismissed, including an assertion that she has no family ties in the UK despite her father’s representations and personal circumstances.

The hostile environment, as experienced by Undocumented Commonwealth Citizens (aka Windrush generation) due to the legal changes brought into force in 2014 has not ceased to continue. There are other issues such as the Good Character Requirement policy contained in Annex D, that has prevented many from wishing to apply to regularise their stay in the UK without the full assurance from the Government that this specific policy and the hostile/compliance environment will end. However, yet to be seen for non-British European nationals, and what is currently happening to those with limited leave to remain where the Immigration Minister forced through the doubling of the Immigration Health Surcharge from £200 per year to £400 per year upon the rationale that this will deter health tourism, despite visitors to the UK only being required to pay for the NHS at point of use, and the continual increase of immigration fees each year on the 6thApril, the current actions speak louder than any words of reassurance.

It is right to have a robust immigration policy. However there must be scope to demonstrate respect not only for the contribution that migrants make to the UK, but also to respect their private and family life in a proportionate, justifiable and fair manner." 

  • Article by Linda Watson Peterborough Resident & Labour Party Member; Reverend Clive Foster Activist & co-founder of Nottinghamshire Windrush Support Forum; Ankunda Joel Matsiko, OISC Level 1 Adviser at 1st Call Immigration Services, and who supports the Pilgrim Church in Nottingham, Undocumented Commonwealth Citizens