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Windrush Day

June 22, 2019 1:00 PM
By Isabelle Parasram
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Please be advised that this article contains language that some may find offensive

As a child of the Windrush generation, Windrush Day is hugely important to me. I'm so glad that we, as a society, are marking it.

The term 'the Windrush Generation' stems from the arrival, on June 22, 1948, of the ship The Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks, just east of London, bringing with it the first immigrants from the Caribbean.

It denotes the large-scale influx of Caribbean immigrants during the years that followed.

There's been a lot of press about the terrible treatment of people who came here from the Caribbean in the late 1940s and onwards, who now find that their very official existence has been denied.

There's been a lot of press about the terrible treatment of people who came here from the Caribbean in the late 1940s and onwards, who now find that their very official existence has been denied.

There's also much discussion about the poor treatment of those Caribbean immigrants upon their arrival in the UK to date.

But there are also some positive stories and memories mixed in with those experiences.

I've recorded an 8-minute audio interview with someone who came to this country in 1962. She shared with me some of her memories and they were both good and bad.

The memories they shared included these:

'I came to the UK after a one month journey from Trinidad by ship with my young stepson and my new baby boy. When we arrived it was the coldest winter they'd had in a long time and we only had summer clothes.'

'I remember having no furniture, no heating, no washing machine, no fridge, no winter clothes. We had to try to stay warm in one room using a paraffin burner. Then, on Christmas Day, someone gave us a bed for my stepson. I was so happy!'

Since 2018, we've celebrated Windrush Day to honour the British Caribbean community.

'It was hard to find a job because no black people were allowed. The British people didn't want immigrants - "…no black people", they said.'

'I remember a bus driver saying to the passengers that '…all these Pakis had come over here to go on the dole. I pointed out to him that not everyone with Asian skin was from Pakistan and that we were all desperate to work.'

'We had so little money for food that I had to work at a sweet factory in the evenings just so we could eat. I know it was illegal, but I left my young stepson in charge of my toddler and my baby and, one day, I came home to find the baby under the kitchen table. But I had no choice.'

'Eventually, I got a job in local Government. I was the only black woman working in my department for the Council. They treated me well and helped me to get promotions.'

And so, the stories continue.

Since 2018, we've celebrated Windrush Day to honour the British Caribbean community.

Listening to the person I interviewed who spoke about how hard it was to find work, it's ironic to note that, following the losses of World War II, Britain was in dire need of labourers. This prompted a campaign to entice people from the countries of the British Empire and Commonwealth to immigrate to the UK.

Yet, when they arrived, it seems that they weren't exactly welcomed.

I've read the 'official lines' that state, for posterity that '…the Windrush Generation and their descendants are honoured for their immense contributions to British society following the trauma of the Second World War'. However, this does not entirely reflect the British Caribbean community's experience - certainly not those with whom I've come into contact.

When Caribbean immigrants first arrived, there were met with extreme intolerance from large parts of the white population.

Having initially been encouraged to settle in the UK and take up employment to revive the labour market, many early immigrants were denied access to private employment and accommodation on account of their skin colour. Afro-Caribbean and Indo-Caribbean people were also banished from many pubs, clubs, and even churches.

From today's perspective, the arrival of The Empire Windrush is considered a major landmark not only for the country's recovery from the turmoil of war but also for the establishment of modern British multicultural society.

As Liberal Democrats, we must continue to fight for justice for those members of the Windrush Generation whose paperwork - destroyed by The Home Office - means that they have to face a costly, lengthy and sometimes unwinnable battle to establish their right to remain in the UK

Windrush Day is a way of encouraging communities across the country to celebrate the contribution of the Windrush Generation and their descendants - I guess that would include me!

But, it also serves as a reminder that, as Liberal Democrats, we must continue to fight for justice for those members of the the Windrush Generation whose paperwork - destroyed by The Home Office - means that they have to face a costly, lengthy and sometimes unwinnable battle to establish their right to remain in the UK, even if this is the only home they've ever known.

So, join me on Tuesday 25th June 2019 at an event organised by 'The Hackney Heroine', Pauline Pearce, the driving force behind Motion F5 from last Autumn's Conference 'Righting Wrongs: Restoring the Rights of the Windrush Generation'.

Alongside former Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year, Kaweh Beheshtizadeh and Professor Paul Reynolds (both key figures within the Liberal Democrats), I will be discussing the issues surrounding the Windrush Scandal and what we, as Liberal Democrats, can do about it.