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Windrush: Lessons Learned

Posted on Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

“I can’t believe I have been treated like this by my beloved England”
Member of the Windrush Generation, quoted in ‘Windrush Lessons Learned Review’ p8, (19 March 2019)

Nathaniel had arrived in the UK in the 1950s, as a member of the Windrush Generation. In 2001, Nathaniel went on holiday to Jamaica with his daughter. Upon their return, he was denied re-entry to the UK. Nathaniel’s passport, which identified him as a citizen of the UK and its colonies, was no longer enough to prove his right to re-enter the UK, which had been his home for over 45 years. After decades of making a life for himself and his family in the UK, Nathaniel wasn’t allowed to journey home with his daughter. Nine years later, unable to afford medical treatment for prostate cancer, Nathaniel died in exile.

In 2018, Nathaniel’s story was one of many that made national headlines, concerning individuals whose rights had been threatened and denied by the Home Office, termed ‘the Windrush Scandal’. Whilst every story was its own tragedy, what bound the victims was that they had all emigrated to England from former British colonies in the Caribbean between 1948 and 1971 in what has come to be referred to as the Windrush Generation.

Members of the Windrush Generation were recognised as British citizens under the 1948 Nationality Act and the 1971 Immigration Act solidified commonwealth citizens’ right to remain in the UK. However, the Home Office did not grant documentary evidence or keep record of the beneficiaries of these rights.

In 2010, the Windrush Generation fell victim to the government’s ‘hostile environment.’ The ‘hostile environment’ is a series of immigration policies, described by the human rights organisation Liberty as “aimed at making life unbearably difficult for undocumented people in order to deter more migrants coming to the UK and encourage people to leave”.

Those affected were unable to provide documentary evidence to prove their right to citizenship, secure housing, employment, and so on. Consequently, many of them, and their children, found themselves facing loss of employment, housing, welfare benefits, citizenship and deportation.

“Race clearly played a part in what occurred.”
Wendy Williams, ‘Windrush Lessons Learned Review’ , p13 (19 March 2019)

The Windrush Scandal caused a national outcry, and many to question why the Home Office did not foresee such a preventable tragedy. In response, the Home Office commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, Wendy Williams, to conduct an independent review of the scandal and identify key lessons and recommendations for the Home Office. Click here to read the full review.

Williams evidences the preventable and foreseeable nature of the scandal itself and highlights the role in which institutional racism has played into the Home Office’s failure to recognise the harm successive legislative changes to immigration policy would cause to the Windrush generation.

Institutional racism is defined as, “The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.”
‘The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry’ (24 February 1999)

Whilst Williams states her review is not an investigation into institutional racism in the Home Office, she is clear in her conclusion and recommendations that the causes of the Windrush scandal are deeply rooted in the organisational practices and culture of the Home Office. The Home Office was not sensitive to the needs of minority experience in the UK, which is an essential component to meeting the requirements of a multi-ethnic and diverse society.

This was further evidenced in Williams’ investigation, where she found high ranking officials in the department lacking basic understanding of the gravity and scale of the scandal. The institutional refusal to fully realise its failings, and reflect on how they could have been prevented, may pave the way for future harm.

“The Windrush generation did not feature in the minds of those developing hostile environment measures.
Wendy Williams,Windrush Lessons Learned Review’, p138 (19 March 2019)

Williams sets out 30 recommendations for change in the Home Office, which centre on three basic principles: acknowledging wrongdoing; greater external scrutiny; challenging institutional culture. The recommendations address the department’s community and stakeholder engagement; interactions within the department and wider government; and understanding and approach to race, diversity and inclusion. They seek to challenge the ways in which race and power play into all elements of the Home Office, including inter-personal departmental dynamics.

Whilst the Home Office cannot undo the harm it has caused, it can choose to learn from it. This review gives the Home Office one final opportunity to listen to the stories and experiences of members of the Windrush generation. Let’s hope that, this time, these are heard.

“Migration and wider Home Office policy is about people and, whatever its objective, should be rooted in humanity”
Wendy Williams, ‘Windrush Lessons Learned Review’, p7 (19 March 2019)

The Windrush scandal is a lesson on humanity. It shows the human consequence of an immigration system that fails to support the most marginalised and at-risk members of our community. The Windrush scandal teaches us all the importance of practicing human kindness, in government and in wider society.

René Cassin calls on the Home Office to reflect on the message a system based on hostility is sending, and the harm it is causing. As the Jewish voice for human rights, we recognise the hostile measures enforced by the Home Office, in Jewish experience. Hostility, detention and exile, were some of the many experiences faced by German Jews, fleeing persecution and genocide in Nazi Germany, seeking refuge in Britain. Fritz Lustig was one of the many Jewish refugees branded a ‘enemy alien’ by the British state and detained on the Isle of Man in the 1940s. Click here to watch Fritz talk about his experience as an ‘enemy alien’.

We are saddened that, decades after German Jewish refugees, stripped of their rights as German citizens, were treated as ‘enemy aliens’ by the British state, minority groups and marginalised communities are still failed and forgotten in immigration policy. 

After publication of the review, Home Secretary Priti Patel said, I’m sorry that people’s trust has been betrayed and we will continue to do everything possible to ensure that the Home Office protects, supports and listens to every single part of the community it serves.”

René Cassin supports the recommendations set out in Williams’ review, and urges the Home Office to reflect upon and acknowledge the departmental failures that led to the scandal. Whilst we welcome the Home Secretary’s thoughtful words, they must be backed up with action otherwise they risk being viewed as merely paying lip service to the tragedy.

We call upon the Home Office to challenge the culture of hostility and indifference, which has embedded itself in the department. Amidst a global pandemic, now is the time, more than ever, to focus on community and being kind to one another.


  • René Cassin is co-signatory to the Runnymede Trust’s letter to the Home Secretary on the Windrush Lessons Learned Review
  • Click here to sign Patrick Vernon’s Petition: To: Boris Johnson and Priti Patel: Windrush: never again
  • Click here to sign Patrick Vernon’s Petition: To: Boris Johnson and Priti Patel: Improve the compensation scheme for Windrush survivors and family members