Baptist anger over Windrush crisis
‘Appalling and deplorable’. Baptists have spoken of their anger over the Windrush deportation crisis – and have urged the Government to resolve the situation as quickly as possible with calls for both an amnesty and compensation
It has emerged in recent weeks that thousands of people who arrived in the UK after the Second World War from Caribbean countries are at risk of deportation because they don’t have the required documentation to prove their residency status.
Some have already lost jobs and faced spells in detention centres. On Monday (16 April) Home Secretary Amber Rudd described their treatment as ‘appalling’, and announced the creation of a 20-strong task force to ensure that such long-term residents would no longer find themselves classified as being in the UK illegally. Prime Minister Theresa May apologised to Caribbean leaders on Tuesday (17 April).
While this new task force was welcomed, Baptists have criticised the time it has taken the Government to respond, and the fact the situation has developed in the first place.
Rupert Lazar, minister of East Barnet Baptist Church and a former Baptist Union President, said, ‘I’m simply appalled. This is all wrong. I think of the hurt, the pain and fear. It’s a tragedy.
‘Our Government needs to do everything in its power to sort this out, and sort it out quickly.
‘I’m glad apologies have been made, but the Government now needs to find more appropriate ways of working this through without putting people through more anxiety.’
Pat White, a magistrate and member of Brixton Baptist Church, added, ‘I thought it was a joke when I first heard it, but it’s absolutely appalling for those who don’t have the documentation.
‘These seniors are people in their 60s, who came here as children. They were invited and were part of the restructuring of the country.’
Pat, who was born in Jamaica and came to England as a young girl in 1962, revealed that her mum applied for British citizenship after hearing Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968.
If she had not done this, Pat would now be directly affected. ‘I could have had a knock at the door. Who or what would I be going back to? I’ve lived here most of my life. My family is here. I couldn’t have continued being a magistrate.
‘But this is what’s been happening to people. It’s deplorable.’
Rosemarie Davidson-Gotobed, National Minority Ethnic Vocations Officer, Archbishop’s Council of the Church of England and formerly the first Racial Justice Co-ordinator for the London Baptist Association, said the situation was both ‘appalling’ but ‘predictable’.
‘I feel really saddened this has happened, but this was flagged up after the Brexit vote.
‘However, it was ignored and described as scare-mongering.
‘Of course the Government response is slow – they are dealing with Black people. It’s only now things have ratcheted up the Home Office has something to say. This is something we often see with Black people in this country.’
Pat agreed the Government should have sorted this properly from the beginning. She welcomed the creation of the task force, and hopes there will be a complete amnesty for those affected. If no amnesty, she wants the task force to assist with finding evidence, such as using school and national insurance records. ‘Let’s hope the task force does it job properly.’
Rosemarie said she would like to see four things:
• A public statement of apology
• Individual letters of apology to every person affected
• Compensation for the distress and suffering.
• Letters of apology to each High Commissioner who has been ignored.
But even with this, there would still be ‘nothing redeemable’ about what’s happened. She said the 70th anniversary of the Windrush’s arrival on 22 June would now be ‘tinged with sadness’.
‘It’s important to honour the Windrush generation who have served. But we must not take for granted that our contribution in this country is worth anything. These pioneers came here by invitation – and dragged this country out of a bomb hole. They have worked hard and paid their taxes. They were no more immigrants than someone moving from Edinburgh to London.
‘Yet this shows it can be taken away in a heartbeat. It’s a wake-up call to those living in a cloud of complacency.’
Pat encouraged churches to both speak out against the injustice, and rally around anyone directly affected in their communities.
She highlighted the importance of the Windrush generation on Baptist churches. She cited her own church – Brixton Baptist Church – which was a white majority congregation when she began attending in the 1960s. As people moved away and retired beyond London, its congregation has much more of a Caribbean heritage.
‘A number of Baptist churches would have closed years ago had it not been for this generation,’ said Pat.
She hopes the controversy and the 70th anniversary focus in June will result in renewed calls for a Windrush Day to be marked in the calendar: a public holiday to celebrate the contributions of black, Asian and other minority communities to Britain.
Wale Hudson Roberts, the Baptist Union’s Justice Co-ordinator, offered this statement:
‘Mass deportation is a policy associated with tyrannical states such as apartheid South Africa. To believe that thousands of people in Britain are of risk of that same fate beggars belief.
‘Many from the Windrush generation have not only volunteered their skills to help build a crumbling British economy - stretched to its limit in the aftermath of the Second World War - but some have even made this country their home, contributing to its growth.
‘The fact that the Home Office did not keep a record of all those granted leave to remain or issue paperwork confirming their status is a Home Office blunder and shows scant regard for a generation of Caribbeans committed to the betterment of a county that would not be what it is, or church be where it is, if it were not for their Herculean contributions.
‘An ‘apology’ from the Prime Minister, which may have been precipitated because of her meeting with leaders from nine countries including the High Commissioner from Barbados, should have been made some months ago, when deportations were forced on skilled and hard Caribbean communities.
‘The sad reality is the month of April not only marks the 50th anniversary of the death of the Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, but the 25th anniversary of the death of Stephen Lawrence (who is buried in Jamaica) and the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush generation. This most recent debacle some years after these significant milestones does beg the question: have race relations in the UK really moved on? Or are they always simmering beneath the surface? I think the latter.
‘The Government’s behaviour has been reprehensible, inflicting indignity on thousands of Caribbeans. it needs to do the right thing and that is more than just an apology, but compensation for damage caused.’