A message from a Jamaica-born Briton on Windrush Day

Windrush Generation Arrived From 1948 — City of Westminster Green Plaque at Paddington Station. Photo by Spudgun67 via Wikimedia Commons(CC BY-SA 4.0).

June 22 is Windrush Day in the United Kingdom, and it marks the contributions of hundreds of Black Caribbean economic migrants who began arriving on the HMT Empire Windrush in 1948.

Those contributions, however, were rife with struggle. West Indians who came to the “mother country” were met with less than a warm welcome, not simply from the weather, but from white Brits who opposed this budding multiracial society. Despite promises of economic opportunity, they found it difficult to get jobs and housing, and were often treated like social outcasts.

Adding insult to injury, 70 years after the first of the Windrush generation arrived in the UK, a political controversy dubbed the Windrush scandal saw this older generation of immigrants being harassed, deprived of benefits and even being deported as a result of the Home Office's hostile anti-migrant environment policy, first laid out in 2012 under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.

Changes in UK immigration rules — overseen by then Home Secretary and later Prime Minister Theresa May — placed the burden of proof on members of the Windrush generation to show they had the right to remain in Britain. However, the landing cards that had been issued upon their arrival, which could provide such evidence, were destroyed by the Home Office in 2010.

Despite homage being paid to this generation of immigrants through the unveiling of a GBP one million Windrush monument at Waterloo Station, the injustices that came to light in 2018's Windrush scandal, and the numerous ways in which the government has bungled its response to the revelations, was further exacerbated last June, the 75th anniversary of the Windrush's arrival. Previously classified documents revealed that hundreds of Windrush immigrants, ill with long-term physical or mental conditions, had been sent back to the Caribbean between the 1950s and the early '70s, even though their departure was supposed to be voluntary.

The ongoing fiasco has prompted calls for a public inquiry into the country's repatriation policy and this year, via the X (formerly Twitter) political activism account Led by Donkeys, Jamaica-born Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Sidney McFarlane recorded a message for the UK's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer:

In it, he recounted his experiences as a Black immigrant in Britain from the 1950s onward, both within the Royal Air Force and beyond. “The Windrush scandal,” he says, “is about people like me who answered the call to come and help the mother country rebuild this place after the Second World War.”

He added that people fail to understand that the Windrush generation landed in the UK as British citizens, and “we are now treated as illegal immigrants.”

In his testimony, McFarlane revealed that he had recently given a talk about Windrush; surprisingly, not many people had heard about it and those that did mistakenly had the impression that the issue had been resolved. “It isn't done and dusted,” McFarlane explained, “and people still suffer.”

Drawing parallels with the 1999–2015 British Post Office scandal, in which thousands of innocent sub-postmasters were accused of — and served time for — financial impropriety that had actually been caused by a faulty accounting software system, Mc Farlane lamented, “It's as though the Home Office is waiting for people to die out, because it's been dragged out so much, we're losing people.”

Courts began overturning judgements relating to the post office scandal in 2021, but it was only in 2024 that the UK Parliament passed a law overturning the convictions — a period of 25 years from the start of the debacle. In the case of Windrush, it has been far longer if you consider that people were being sent back since the 1950s — and now, according to McFarlane, “[T]hey've made [the process] so complicated that the ordinary layperson has great difficulty accessing compensation.”

The eventual resolution, he believes, lies in the appointment of “an independent body to take [the issue] away from the Home Office and for the government to implement its own recommendations.”

With the UK's next general election scheduled for July 4, McFarlane ended his message by saying, “Whoever forms the next government, I'm just hopeful that […] I'll live long enough to see the compensation being paid.”

One commenter on the X thread, disgusted by how the Windrush generation has been treated, hoped that “a new government can find it in themselves to take some meaningful action.”

Another replied:

McFarlane also felt that the school curriculum should be changed so as to allow younger generations to be better informed. After all, he argued, “British colonial history is a big part of British history.” A couple of educators responded that they would ensure their students learned about Windrush, with one adding, “They know [and] understand how wrong this was.”

Online responses to the video were mostly supportive, with some saying that the UK was strengthened by the arrival of the Windrush generation — though one commenter asked, “Who invited the Windrush here? Wasn’t the British people; we weren’t asked, we never are.”

X user Adam Bateman countered, “The Windrush generation answered the call when it came, every time it came. They all devoted themselves to the service of the UK, and in return we betrayed them. A stain against us all that allowed their sacrifices to be forgotten.”

One grandchild of a Windrush member added, “Their resilience and aspiration deserve respect.” Another X user confessed that Mc Farlane's “quiet dignity” and “life of service to this country that then betrayed him […] brought a tear to my eye. […] Let's hope he gets to see the conclusion of the process.”

As one commenter succinctly put it, “Windrush people are [British], it is that simple.”

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