16 Aug 2018

Establish a ‘truth and reconciliation commission’ to heal Windrush wounds, Barbados High Commissioner warns

In a heartfelt and searing goodbye letter to Britain, the departing Barbados High Commissioner has told Channel 4 News that the UK should establish a “truth and reconciliation commission” to deal with the fall out from the Windrush scandal.

Britain should establish a “truth and reconciliation commission” to deal with the fall out from the Windrush scandal, the outgoing High Commissioner for Barbados has told Channel 4 News.

Guy Hewitt, the London born Commissioner for the Carribean island, has used his final days in the job to say that such a commission would be a “fitting tribute to the Windrush generation and their descendants”.

Mr Hewitt, who’s four year term ends in September, used a final love letter to the United Kingdom to warn that “the situation among blacks in Britain is grim”, adding that there is now an “urgent need to bring a sense of unity in the kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

After the Second World War, the British government invited thousands of people from the Caribbean over to the UK to help rebuild the country.

The new arrivals, the first of whom were brought over in the HMT Empire Windrush, had been granted full British citizenship in 1948 as members of the Commonwealth.

Earlier this year, after decades living and working here, it emerged some members of the “Windrush generation” were being threatened with deportation – apparently because they can’t provide the documents to prove how long they’ve been in the UK.

Behind the scenes Caribbean diplomats said they have been asking the Foreign Office to deal with the growing problem of Caribbean-born British citizens who were being told they were illegal immigrants for years.

Even as the number of Caribbean-born Brits describing how they had lost their jobs, their homes, or were even detained because of their after being classified as illegal immigrants grew – the government was slow to react.

After pressure from Mr Hewitt and other Carribean commissioners Amber Rudd apologised in Parliament – and later resigned from her post as the fallout from the scandal continued.

Windrush victims were promised compensation from the government – although these payouts could be capped under proposals to ensure no individual receives a “disproportionately” high payment from the public purse.

Mr Hewitt wrote: “70 years ago, when the post-WWII call came from Britain to her then colonies for workers to migrate here to address the critical labour shortages, we heeded the call from the ‘Mother Country’. Between 1948 and 1973 approximately 550,000 West Indians (15% of the Commonwealth Caribbean population) migrated.

“But this journey was not without peril and migrants faced outright racism. Some recall the infamous Teddy Boys and Notting Hill race riots, and the signs which read, “No Irish, No blacks, No dogs”. Nonetheless they persevered, and with some blood, toil, tears, and sweat played a pivotal role in helping to build a modern, global Britain.

“It is against this backdrop that many of these migrants recently despaired when confronted recently by a new wave of hostility. This time, it was predicated on their “irregular status” in a “hostile immigration environment” which resulted in the denial of their right to work, denial of benefits, denial of healthcare and also for some detention and deportation.

“April this year for me, could only be described as a modern-day miracle. In less than a week, the Windrush scandal that was for too long begging for attention became front page news and in the process won the hearts of a nation and engaged the mind of the UK Government who apologised, and offered full British citizenship with compensation for those who suffered, and the inauguration of a Windrush Day.

“I endorse the commitments made on Windrush by Prime Minister May and on her first day as Prime Minister when she stated: “I want to see this country working for everyone – a country where, regardless of where you live or what your parents do for a living, you have a fair chance to build a life for yourself and your family”. Notwithstanding the sentiment, the reality, based on the summary findings from the Ethnicity Facts and Figures by the Cabinet Office Race Disparity Audit, is that the situation among blacks in Britain is grim.”

Mr Hewitt added: “Perhaps, the lessons to be learned by Windrush will help give effect to the reality as stated by Lyndon B Johnson that: “Until justice is blind to colour, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the colour of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact.”

“Perhaps, in addition to the work of the Windrush Commemoration Committee to advise on how best to create a permanent, fitting tribute to the Windrush generation and their descendants, consideration will be given to the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission.

“While the Commission in South Africa to examine the effects of apartheid is best-known, there are multiple examples in the Commonwealth. The 2008 Canada Commission investigated the human rights abuses of their indigenous people, and the 2009 Mauritius Commission explored the historical impact of slavery and indentured servitude.

“Perhaps Windrush will provide the opportunity to finally bring this multicultural society together and eliminate the vestiges of intolerance, discrimination and cultural denigration, which constitute the legacy of a horrific past, and in the process give birth to a truly, united kingdom.”