Alex Ntung arrived in Hastings as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He has made his life in Britain working for community cohesion, as co-founder of Education 4 Diversity, and as an Associate Lecturer at Canterbury Christ Church University. Now he fears the Windrush scandal threatens the security and identity of his British-born children.  

So, 150 MPs have demanded the government resolve the ‘crisis’ and more than 130,000 people have signed a petition demanding amnesty for those ‘Windrush’ immigrants who have suddenly discovered their adopted country may no longer want them. Meanwhile there is a wider public outcry demanding the government provide fair and just treatment to all migrant people. MP David Lammy, described the UK government’s actions as “grotesque, immoral and inhumane.”

My fear is that my children could, in future, also be subject to what is currently happening. Yet other than being black and born to refugee parents, they are English and have never had any experience of ‘refugeeness’.

18 years ago, when I arrived in the UK – a genuine refugee from the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, I was harshly detained and threatened with deportation. I did not speak English and was sent straightaway to Hastings. The day I arrived in the town many babies were born at the Conquest Hospital or at home – we all arrived in the UK at different stages and used different ports of entry! It makes me laugh to be told by an 18 year old that I should go back to where I come from. It is not just that while they were growing up I was here very actively working and making a difference in the local community, what is even more terribly wrong is that such attitudes are being endorsed by the Home Office policies.

The only difference between me and the Windrush generation is why we came here. Whereas my children, aged 9 and 7, and the Windrush generation’s children or grandchildren would have a lot in common in terms of their British identity, expectation and aspirations in Britain. It raises fundamental questions:  what does it mean to be British? And how does denial of one’s full rights impact on a sense of belonging to a country?

The Windrush ‘crisis’ is not just about the right to British citizenship – it is a failure of government inclusion policies and strategies: one of the many issues rooted in a system of ‘othering’ those associated with ‘foreignness’. Fundamentally, it is a serious crack in the foundations on which British society has been built.

Hastings MP and ex-Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, expresses her “admiration” of the people who came from the Caribbean and “contributed so much to our society in many ways”. But there is something wrong with such a response. It reflects a continuation of the deep-rooted moral hierarchy of ‘othering’ attitudes. It makes me wonder whether my children will be valued and admired for their contributions to society or be forever associated with ‘foreignness’ in Britain – their home country. For too long migrants have been regarded as a temporary labour force, who will eventually return to their countries of origin. Policies have been created as short-term measures and designed to minimise their impact on ‘indigenous’ citizens or ‘host’ communities.

Then Amber Rudd offers a ‘compassionate’ proposal, promising to waive requirements and language tests. Whilst this sounds positive, it is an insult to the children of the Windrush generation who have only known the UK as their country and are not foreign nationals.

Many children of the Windrush generation are now pensioners and fearful of deportation. They have been abruptly denied the security of what it means to be British. Some already feel stripped of dignity and like ‘outsiders’ in the only country they have ever known. The debate must go beyond mending the pain and injuries caused by institutional racism and tackle the underlying issues linked to the meaning of equality, fairness, respect, justice and dignity, and attitudes that prevent full participation in social, civil, cultural and economic life.

 

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