It is 70 years since the Empire Windrush ship landed in the UK, bringing a wave of Caribbean immigrants who were eager, proud and ready to fill vital roles.
After several decades of working hard, paying taxes and raising families, these same people – who have lived here all of their adult lives – are left in fear of the threat of deportation by the Home Office.
Campaigner Cleo Lake, a Green councillor for Cotham, has launched a petition calling on the Government to stop deportation threats and grant immigration amnesty to Commonwealth citizens. More than 14,000 people have signed to show their support.
This comes in the wake of a reported rise in the number of people from Bristol’s Caribbean community seeking help and support from Bristol Refugee Rights, as well as a series of high profile cases nationwide in which long-standing citizens have had their eligibility to remain questioned.
“I feel that something should be done and I did not want to wait until one of my elder friends from the Caribbean community receives a letter from the Home Office,” Lake told Bristol24/7.
“Bristol Refugee Rights also raised the alarm, informing me that they had seen a number of people seeking advice on the matter.”
She explained that a number of people arrived from the Caribbean under their parents’ passport in the 1960s and have not left since.
Immigration law changed in 1971, ending the permanent migration of Commonwealth citizens. Although those here prior to this date are able to stay in the country, they are running into difficulties in providing evidence to confirm the length of time they have been in Britain.
This, says Lake, is against a backdrop of hostility from the Home Office – and while the burden of proof rests on individuals, things are further made difficult with dwindling legal aid assistance and limited access to immigration advice.
The petition was launched in Bristol with the support of Afrikan Connexions Consortium, Malcolm X Centre, Momentum Black Caucus, Greens of Colour UK and forms an element of the Stop The Maangamizi Campaign.
It states: “We the undersigned petition against the evident hostile environment directed at retirement age Commonwealth citizens.
“These British residents are now pensioners and have not returned to their country of birth since childhood. They have families and lives here and are being callously uprooted; are in danger of becoming destitute; are being refused lifesaving treatment and are becoming seriously unwell due to the stress of their situation.”
Lake says this could be more widespread than realised and is urging anyone concerned to email her in confidence email@example.com.
An information sheet will be featured in next month’s Vocalise magazine and a community information meeting will be held at the Malcolm X Centre in the near future.