Episode 35: The unkept promises of the Windrush scandal, with Amelia Gentleman

Episode 35: The unkept promises of the Windrush scandal, with Amelia Gentleman

In 2018, Amelia Gentleman revealed the Windrush scandal. Three years on, does Britain treat its immigrants any better?

Isabelle Roughol
Isabelle Roughol

Through dogged reporting in The Guardian, Amelia Gentleman showed that British residents and citizens who had arrived from the Caribbean in the 1950s and 60s had been mistakenly classified as unauthorized immigrants. That came to be known as the Windrush Scandal.

Three years on, I caught up with Amelia Gentleman ahead of Windrush Day to talk about its aging victims, the compensation scheme and the Home Office’s promises of reform. And in the waning days of the EU settlement scheme, we ask: Just as the Windrush generation was caught out by the end of free movement in the empire, could the Brexit generation be Britain’s next immigration scandal?

Show notes

00:23 Intro
02:42 Amelia Gentleman's career story
04:20 The Windrush scandal: a primer
08:14 Malice, incompetence or both?
10:49 People screaming into the void
14:42 When austerity and the hostile environment meet
17:31 Individual cases were solved, but systemic issues ignored
19:51 How these stories became "The Windrush Scandal"
25:29 Has the compensation scheme held its promises?
29:08 Could the EU Settlement Scheme be the next Windrush scandal?
35:53 How do you relate to a country that has turned its back on you?
44:07 Outro

📚 The Windrush Betrayal, by Amelia Gentleman. Guardian Faber Publishing. 2020.

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Transcript

Transcripts are published for your convenience, but they are automated and not always cleaned up. Please excuses typos and occasional nonsense, and always check the audio before quoting.

Amelia Gentleman: [00:00:00] I really wanted to believe that there was going to be comprehensive change. But it's three years pretty much exactly since we had the first of those commitments and I think a lot of people who work in frontline organizations would say that they haven't yet seen the new compassionate immigration system that was promised.

[00:00:23] Isabelle Roughol: [00:00:33] Hi, I'm Isabelle Roughol, and this is Borderline.

[00:00:37] A little housekeeping first before we get onto today's episode: please sign up for the newsletter it's at borderlinepod. com. You really want to now because I've just changed the format and it's a lot more than just a distribution mechanism for the podcast. You'll get a lot more information, a curation of news and some analysis on the topics that matter to global citizens and to people living globally, or simply sympathetic to the issues that we discuss on this podcast. So sign up, borderlinepod. com, this is also where you can sign up as a member and choose to support this podcast and the newsletter and everything else that comes with for just five pounds. Welcome this week to a new member, Adam Thomas.

[00:01:15] Today's guest is someone who has achieved something that you really just get once in a career in journalism, if you're lucky, as well as extremely talented and hardworking and persevering. Her name is Amelia Gentleman. She's a journalist at The Guardian, and her name will forever be associated with something that's come to be known as the Windrush scandal. Starting around late 2017 and 2018, she uncovered stories of people who had arrived in the UK in the fifties and the sixties from the former British empire, especially the Caribbeans, and who, through various accidents that we'll get into, were categorized falsely as undocumented and illegal immigrants.

[00:01:58] What the story of that generation illustrated for me is how much immigration has changed in the span of really, one lifetime, one generation, from something that was fairly unregulated and undocumented and easy to navigate, to something that's become just a maze of bureaucracy and of laws that even with the best of intentions are really hard to keep up with and to abide by.

[00:02:22] These people in the Windrush generation were essentially caught out by the end of free movement within the British empire. And today there's a new generation of Europeans who are caught out in the end of free movement in the EU or between the UK and the EU.

[00:02:38] So here's my conversation with Amelia Gentleman

[00:02:42] Amelia Gentleman's career story

[00:02:45] Amelia Gentleman: [00:02:45] So I knew that I wanted to be a journalist as, as a child even. I've made newspapers at home. And I edited the school newspaper, and I worked on the university newspaper. And I began a post-graduate newspaper journalism course in, in London. But so I studied Russian and history as my first degree. And then I, I started on this post-graduate journalism course, but I dropped out because I got a job as a trainee with a news agency and I thought that was more interesting. So my shorthand is still a bit ropey. But then I moved from the news agency to work for The Guardian and I've been on and off for The Guardian for a long time. I spent some time as their Moscow correspondent. And then a very short period of time working for them in Paris. Then I left and I started working for that Herald Tribune and the New York times in India.

[00:03:46] But for the last decade I've been back in the UK and mostly I write about government policy looking at the way that government policy impacts on the people that it's written for so I'm kind of writing about politics, but not from a Westminster perspective and looking more at, you know, the fallout from legislation. And over the past four or so years, I've been looking mostly, but not exclusively, at the Home Office and at immigration.

[00:04:20] The Windrush scandal: a primer

[00:04:20] Isabelle Roughol: [00:04:20] And so that's how you came across, you know, what's become known as the, as the Windrush scandal. Can you explain, especially to our non UK audience, what that was, what you found out and kind of, what was your way into it?

[00:04:35] Amelia Gentleman: [00:04:35] Yes. So the Windrush scandal is a Home Office immigration scandal. And the Home Office is of course the British department that deals with immigration as well as with police and terrorism and a whole number of, of different policy areas. But they, the Home Office deals with all policy to do with who comes into the UK.

[00:04:59] And this scandal was really that over the years, the department had mistakenly classified thousands of people who were in the UK entirely legally as illegal immigrants. And the consequences of that mistaken misclassification were really, really catastrophic for those people.

[00:05:23] So on the whole, the people caught up with the scandal where people who'd been born in Commonwealth countries, who'd come to Britain in the 1950s and 1960s when there was a period of essentially free movement between Britain and its former colonies, countries of its former empire. And so, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people came from former Commonwealth countries to live in Britain over those decades entirely legally. But the Home Office didn't keep a record of who had come in at that point. And they didn't give people documentation to say, you are here legally. And for most people, in the decades that passed, they went on to get British passports or to get documentation of some form or another, but a minority, and we still don't know the full number, um, a minority didn't get any documentation.

[00:06:28] And they didn't have to. You know, there there's a large portion of people in the UK who don't actually have a passport. I think it's about 17% of people in the UK don't. And culturally, we're not particularly at ease with the notion of ID cards or, you know, people carrying papers around. So until relatively recently, there's been no need for people to have clear documentation.

[00:06:56] Anyway, the scandal was that these thousands of people who had been inadvertently wrongly classified as immigration offenders were unable to prove that they were here legally. And the consequences for them were really catastrophic. And some people were denied benefits. Some people were denied free NHS healthcare. Other people lost the right to a driving license. Many people were sacked from their jobs. They lost their homes. And a minority were arrested as immigration offenders. Some of them were detained in immigration detention centers and a couple of hundred people were deported to countries that they had left as children and hadn't visited for often half a century.

[00:07:48] So it was a really kind of terrible scandal that affected thousands of people and which really showcased the British Home Office as an organization that was quite incompetent and also really very thoughtless about a large number of people.

[00:08:14] Malice, incompetence or both?

[00:08:14] Isabelle Roughol: [00:08:14] So what was at the root of that? Was it, and you mentioned incompetence, Is it, is it malice? is it just thoughtlessness? Is it racism? Is it just plain old bureaucracy that got too big and it can't function? Or is it all of it?

[00:08:27] Amelia Gentleman: [00:08:27] I think it is a mixture of all of those things. I mean, the question of why the Home Office didn't respond to a number of really, really clear warnings that this might be problematic, I think goes to the heart of how British institutions treat minorities, how seriously British politicians felt that this was a problem that they needed to act on or respond to, and that does raise questions about institutional racism. But equally, it says very bad things about the Home Office's ability to keep clear records and to know a really fundamental thing, which is who is in this country legally and who isn't. And given that we have seen over the past decade, a real concerted policy drive to treat people who aren't in Britain legally in a very hostile manner, and we've seen a whole kind of swathe of legislation purposefully designed to create a hostile environment for illegal immigrants, it is really unfortunate that the department responsible for implementing those very harsh and draconian measures was not well able to distinguish between people who are here totally legally and people who are here illegally.

[00:10:03] And I think that's a really, really poor reflection on the department.

[00:10:07] Isabelle Roughol: [00:10:07] Because the policies targeted at illegal immigrants, to catch them, you end up kind of targeting a much bigger group of all immigrants and, and even people who, quote unquote, look like immigrants.

[00:10:21] Amelia Gentleman: [00:10:21] Right. Well, that, that was a point that Diane Abbott, who was then shadow home secretary, raised when some of these bits of legislation were discussed in Parliament. She said it's really, really difficult to create a hostile environment for illegal immigrants without also creating a hostile environment for people who look like they could be illegal immigrants. And you know, that, that goes to the question of whether or not these policies are racist.

[00:10:49] People screaming into the void

[00:10:49] Isabelle Roughol: [00:10:49] Hm, one thing that. . . so I read your book over the weekend, and it really was a bit of a rage read because there's just so many moments that you feel that the person who's impacted is just screaming into the void. And, and their situation is so obviously something that should be corrected, but they cannot get their case heard by anyone. Until you show up as a journalist with an audience or with a large platform and, and that in many cases makes a difference on those individual cases. How did you feel about, about that you know, as a journalist, as a, as a British citizen that, you know, you kinda could tip the scales in a way, but at the same time, you know, you had these really powerless people that had been trying unsuccessfully to tip those scales for a long time.

[00:11:37] Amelia Gentleman: [00:11:37] Yeah. I think that that was one of the most extraordinary things about this story, was that almost everybody who I interviewed who'd been caught up in this impossible situation, often for years, told me that they had tried repeatedly to inform the Home Office that a mistake, a mistake had been made and that they were repeatedly ignored. And that was just incredibly shocking. So I saw that first with the first person who I interviewed about this, who was a woman called Paulette Wilson who, when I met her, was I think 61. She had come to person from Jamaica in the late 1960s to live with her grandparents who were working here. Her grandmother was working for the NHS and they thought that they could give her a better life in the UK. So she traveled entirely legally from Jamaica to, to Britain. She went to primary school in Britain, to secondary school in Britain. She had a daughter here, a granddaughter. She worked here and paid taxes for decades. And she even worked for a while in the House of Commons, in the canteen making food for politicians. And she was somebody who hadn't broken the law. but who was horrified in about 2015 to get a letter from the Home Office, telling her that she was an immigration offender and should take immediate steps to return to Jamaica, which was a country she hadn't visited for around 50 years.

[00:13:17] And so from 2015 untillate 2017, when I met her and we wrote about her for The Guardian, she had been repeatedly on a kind of almost fortnightly basis trying to tell Home Office officials that they'd made a mistake, that she was here legally, and she had been consistently ignored. And as a result of the fact that she couldn't find anyone to listen to her, she was twice arrested as an immigration offender. She spent a week in immigration detention and she was booked on a flight back to Jamaica, which luckily she never actually had to board,, but really was on the brink of being deported.

[00:14:02] And when I interviewed her, she was very frightened, but she was also really puzzled about why it was that nobody had taken a really common sense approach to her situation. Because it was kind of obvious to me, and I'm not an immigration expert and I certainly wasn't at that point, that, you know, a really stupid mistake had been made and that she was somebody who'd lived here for five decades. And the idea that she was somebody who needed to be either arrested or locked up or deported was just implausible.

[00:14:42] When austerity and the hostile environment meet

[00:14:42] Isabelle Roughol: [00:14:42] So, so why. . . why was it that that commonsense approach was not taken?

[00:14:50] Amelia Gentleman: [00:14:50] Well, I mean, this, this goes to the heart of why this scandal, which had been kind of brewing in Britain for a number of decades, and then which really, really accelerated from about 2012 onwards with the introduction of the hostile environment, it goes to the heart of why it remained hidden for such a long time.

[00:15:16] And I mean, there are layers of explanation, but I think one of the most significant ones was the fact that this introduction of a very tough and hostile immigration regime coincided more or less exactly with a series of austerity related cuts to the Home Office, which moved it more towards the kind of digitization of processes and took out a whole layer of staff from the bureaucracy, so that it was much harder to meet a caseworker, to sit down with a caseworker, to talk to a human about your situation.

[00:16:02] And so when, when somebody has been branded an immigration offender in Britain, they have to begin reporting on a regular basis to, to Home Office departments and to show that they're complying with Home Office rules and to, to allow them to be kind of processed to a possible eventual removal from the country.

[00:16:27] Um, and previously during those kinds of encounters, you might've been able to speak to a caseworker and say, "look, a mistake has been made. it's, you know, I'm, I'm clearly somebody who is British. " But after a lot of these kind of internal restructurings happened, you only went through a kind of very very automated tick box process, whereby you'd be asked your name and your date of birth and that was kind of it. And so many of the people who I spoke to said that they tried to use these meetings to say, "look, I came here legally in the 1950s, it's absurd to think that I'm an immigration offender" and they weren't listened to.

[00:17:14] Isabelle Roughol: [00:17:14] Things that were optimized and streamlined to the point, of, uh, of automation really. Um, and then we got to a point, um, you know, at first when you were, when you were reporting this, you were able to impact individual cases. Um, snowballed. . .

[00:17:31] Individual cases were solved, but systemic issues ignored

[00:17:31] Amelia Gentleman: [00:17:31] Yeah. I mean, and the, and that was the, um, kind of really amazing thing, I suppose, was that initially. . . Initially there was a reluctance from a lot of people who were affected by this to talk about it because people on the whole feel quite embarrassed about talking about their immigration status. And a lot of people hadn't told their family or their children even that they'd been classified as an immigration offender. And so the prospect of kind of talking about it to a newspaper and having a photograph taken was, was not something that many people wanted. And so initially it was quite difficult to encourage people to talk about this or to be interviewed about this and to go on the record.

[00:18:20] But it did become obvious quite quickly that although, um, the Home Office and, and politicians were not prepared to recognize that there was a problem, there was avery efficient, effective kind of tidying up that happened every time we raised a piece, we raised a case rather with, with the Home Office. So they would bend over backwards to furnish that individual with the appropriate correct documentation, even though they refused to acknowledge that there was any kind of wider systemic problem.

[00:18:58] So for the individuals who came forward and were interviewed in The Guardian, actually after a while it became clear that it was quite a positive thing to do because it could really expedite the process of getting documentation, which people had struggled with for years.

[00:19:18] And, and so you asked, you know, how that felt as a, as a journalist to see that process happening and kind of on the one hand, it was really, um, It was a really great feeling because you saw people getting the documents that they had really struggled to get for a long time. And on the other hand, it felt really peculiar and you know, frustrating because there was no willingness to, to see this as a wider problem.

[00:19:51] How these stories became "The Windrush Scandal"

[00:19:51] Isabelle Roughol: [00:19:51] And that would have been a Sisyphean task to, to try to individually raise every case to the Home Office through stories. Um, but you did get to a point that kind of the snowball got big enough that all of a sudden, you know, the systemic issue was addressed and the scandal got big and the public was outraged and a minister had to resign. What do you think flipped that into that phase of where it just became a properscandal, and it took on that name, the Windrush scandal, that now everyone in Britain has heard?

[00:20:23] Amelia Gentleman: [00:20:23] Yeah, it took a really long time. I mean, in retrospect it looks like a very kind of smooth, linear piece of reporting that finally successfully forced the government to acknowledge that there was a problem. But actually it was really slow and quite frustrating. And at times it looked as if the department was not ever really going to acknowledge that there was something problematic happening to a large number of people.

[00:20:53] So I think that there was a kind of growing momentum in interviewing one after the other more and more people who had been caught in this problem, but who'd had really, really difficult and different problems as, as a result of it. And so we went from interviewing Paulette Wilson, who'd been arrested, to interviewing somebody else who'd also spent five weeks in detention, to interviewing somebody else who'd lost their job or become homeless, and then somebody else who was denied cancer treatment.

[00:21:30] And that I think was the point at which people really began to kind of pay attention because the idea of somebody who'd been in Britain all their life being refused NHS cancer treatment, I think was a really shocking thing for people to write about. And that was the moment at which politicians began to ask questions.

[00:21:55] But it was still another couple of months before the government was forced to apologize. And that apology, I think really came because of quite a random series of events. We had the Commonwealth heads of government summit in London. And it's this sorta political meeting that happens every two years and isn't normally a tremendously significant gathering of, of world leaders.

[00:22:22] But in the, in the post Brexit era, when Britain was really looking for kind of new allies, having waved goodbye to Europe, it felt more of an important summit. And the Caribbean leaders had begun to ask questions about why it was that so many people who've been born in the Caribbean were being treated so badly by the British government.

[00:22:45] And they asked to meetTheresa May, who was prime minister at that point, to discuss it. And Downing Street said that there was no time in her agenda to, to discuss this matter with those 12 or 13 Caribbean leaders. And they were furious. One of them told me that they'd been refused this meeting. And we put that story on the front page about this diplomatic snub that looked like also it might have kind of racist undertones. And we had that on the front page. And the impact was really extraordinary because the government went within a space of 24 hours from refusing to acknowledge that there was any problem at all to putting ministers on the radio, on breakfast television, putting them in the House of Commons immediately to make really, really heartfelt apologies to a whole generation of people who they said had been treated appallingly by the government.

[00:23:47] So it was a, a very It was a very fulsome and wholehearted apology, but there was something about the kind of way in which it was forced out of the government that still makes me want to roll my eyes a little bit.

[00:24:04] Isabelle Roughol: [00:24:04] At the same time, it's a, it's a demonstration of the power, of a newspaper, of journalism,that you were able to create that change at a time when journalism is, is so, you know, decried and, and, and reviled in, in some corners.

[00:24:19] Amelia Gentleman: [00:24:19] Yeah. It was an amazingly dramatic process to watch. And I definitely felt really, um, delighted that The Guardian had been able to have that impact. And then it, it coincided with a colleague of mine at work, Nick Hopkins, being leaked a series of documents about how the home secretary was very,was, was being very careful to get targets met about deportation numbers. And, and she in parallel had been talking at a House of Commons committee saying that there were no targets. And so within a couple of weeks she had to resign on that point. But, but I suppose also on the, you know, in, in recognition of the really terrible things that had happened on her watch to thousands of, of entirely legal Windrush citizens.

[00:25:18] So, yeah, I mean, it did for a while feel like The Guardian had forced some very, very positive change from the government.

[00:25:29] Has the compensation scheme held its promises?

[00:25:29] Isabelle Roughol: [00:25:29] You say "for a while. " Does it, does it not still? There is a compensation scheme now for the people impacted by this scandal. And there have been promises that the Home Office was, was going to change. Those kind of 'never again' promises. Um, so, so how is this scheme going and how are those promises being fulfilled or, or not?

[00:25:50] Amelia Gentleman: [00:25:50] Well, I, I say for a while, because I think I really felt that the the strengths of the apologies were, was so intense and the series of commitment to reform that came from one home secretary and then the next home secretary, and, and now we've had three consecutive home secretaries promising reform.

[00:26:12] And I think I really wanted to believe that there was going to be comprehensive change. And maybe, you know, maybe there will still be that change, but it's coming up for, well, it's, it's three years pretty much exactly since we had the first of those commitments. And I think a lot of people who work, in frontline organizations, helping people who are claiming asylum or who have got some sort of immigration related difficulty, I think they would say that they haven't yet seen the new compassionate immigration system that was promised.

[00:26:50] But there have been, there have been lasting changes.

[00:26:53] So, the department set up a Windrush team that gave documentation to thousands of people who came forward in the wake of the scandal saying that they were having problems and proving that they were British. And so I think now more than 13,000 people have been given documentation under that scheme. And they also promised a compensation scheme to help those people affected put their lives back on track because, you know, as we saw, people lost their jobs for many years or were made homeless and, and suffered really extraordinary kind of financial difficulties, as well as all of that emotional stress. So that compensation scheme was launched, well, it was announced three years ago, it was launched at two years ago and the civil servants who were responsible for it said, in the abstract, it might end up paying out somewhere well over 200 million pounds.

[00:27:59] And at the moment, I think they've offered about 28 million pounds and to a few hundred people. So it's beginning to make, it's beginning to kind of restore justice to some of the people affected, but many, many people have said that they found the process of applying for that compensation mirroring the difficulties that they had originally in trying to secure their British status. In thatit's again, it's the home office who's administering that scheme and they are being required to send a very kind of difficult and high level of documentary proof, again to the same department who'd been asking them for high levels of documentary proof to prove their right to citizenship a few years earlier. And, and so I think people have found it quite uncomfortable and often quite difficult to persuade the Home Office that they suffered the damages that they did indeed suffer.

[00:29:08] Could the EU Settlement Scheme be the next Windrush scandal?

[00:29:08] Isabelle Roughol: [00:29:08] Hmm. So speaking of mirroring I want to talk about the EU Settlement Scheme for a bit because we are two weeks away from the deadline. So that's for EU citizens who arrived in the UK before Brexit to confirm their rights to live and work in the UK. So have you, have you followed that scheme a bit and do you see parallels and risks perhaps of some of the same issues that befell the Windrush generation to perhaps befall European immigrants now, or in years and decades to come?

[00:29:41] Amelia Gentleman: [00:29:41] So Labour has, has been warning for a while that the EU Settlement Scheme has the capacity to become Windrush on steroids. And the reason why they're saying that is because there is an unknown number of EU citizens who live in the UK. Originally, it was thought to be around 3 million. Then that number was revised upwards to 4 million. And I think now over 5 million people have successfully applied to the government's scheme whereby they get a digital recognition of their status in the UK that will allow them to remain here and work here after the June 30th deadline, which as you say is it's coming up very, very closely.

[00:30:30] So on the one hand, it has been a very, very efficient and successful scheme that the government set up in that, you know, 5 million people have been given some form of status in a relatively short period of time by a department, which has received a lot of bad press for inefficiency and kind of poor bureaucracy. So I think that the department would feel justified in pointing to the scheme as a tremendous success.

[00:31:06] But the difficulty is that because the numbers are so large, even if just 5% or 2% of, of people who are entitled to apply for EU settled status have for whatever reason, failed to apply by the June 30th deadline, that will leave tens of thousands of people outside of the system in a kind of a limbo, which may mean that they end up being classified as undocumented in the best possible scenario, or may mean that they become overnight on June the 30th illegal immigrants in the worst possible scenario. And that leaves them entirely vulnerable to the same series of hostile environment policies that caught the Windrush generation out.

[00:32:00] And that means that if they continue to work, their employer will be liable to a 20,000 pound fine for employing an illegal immigrant. It may mean that they find it's impossible to get a driving license, to rent a property, to get a free NHS health for non-urgent medical procedures.

[00:32:26] So there is a kind of a whole swathe of possible consequences, the worst of which being arrest, detention and removal from the country. And I guess we just don't know what's going to happen because the nature of the problem is that it would affect those people who haven't applied for status and the government doesn't know who those people are going to be. We as journalists don't know who those people are going to be, but we can be pretty confident that there will be a number that will run into the thousands of, of people who will not have applied for that status by the end of this month.

[00:33:06] Isabelle Roughol: [00:33:06] Mm. And there is, I guess,activists say, a risk, even for people who have applied which is I think you've got like two, almost 2. 5 million people who have pre settled status – for full disclosure, I'm one of them – who will have to reapply in,, within the next five years. And you know, I have to justify their, their rights again.

[00:33:24] And then you have the lack of documentation. I think one thing that your reporting should really well is, is how poor record-keeping had been historically at the Home Office. And so under the settlement scheme essentially there's a line in a, in a Home Office database that says you're allowed to live and work here, but people don't have that documentation themselves.

[00:33:46] Amelia Gentleman: [00:33:46] Yeah, I mean, you raise the two key points.

[00:33:49] So the first one about this technical difference between settled status and pre settled status, which I think anybody who isn't kind of close to this question doesn't really understand the significance of, but it's hugely significant. So the Home Office can say that they have successfully given status to over 5 million people, but that, that kind of wording glosses over the fact that there is this large number of people who got the much more temporary pre-settled status, which means that they have to go on proving residency in the UK for a certain number of days every year for is it the next five years or for next period?

[00:34:33] Isabelle Roughol: [00:34:33] Yeah, you have, yeah, you have to have that, that full five years of, of, of continuous residency, which with the pandemic has also become more complex.

[00:34:41] Amelia Gentleman: [00:34:41] Yes. Yes. And it makes, it means that we don't really know what the numbers are going to look like at, at the end of the period. It's kind of kicking a full assessment of how well or fair the scheme has been to an unknown date, five years from now.

[00:35:01] And then, and then the other question is about this determination not to offer a piece of paper to people who've got status. So I think in the interest of being very 21st century and kind of digitized and forward thinking, there is no paper version of this status. It's something that you can show perspective employers or landlords a code on your phone and it's all entirely digital, which is, is fine until until we see events as we saw last week when half the internet collapsed and people found themselves with no way of, of showing online that they, that they were here legally. So I think that that does make people feel very nervous.

[00:35:53] How do you relate to a country that has turned its back on you?

[00:35:53] Isabelle Roughol: [00:35:53] Um, to kind of conclude our conversation. When you, when you talk to Windrush victims today how do they feel about what has happened and how do they feel about their country? Because they're, they're British citizens for the vast majority of them. Um, it must feel really hard to, you know, go back to living normally in a country that has turned its back on you in many ways, or its government has at least.

[00:36:19] Amelia Gentleman: [00:36:19] Yeah. I mean, I think, I think it's a real source of profound unhappiness that the compensation scheme has been so difficult for so many people because it feels like a kind of a second injustice. And I really struggle to understand why the Home Office has got it so wrong because I think, I think now they are trying to get it right. And they would really, really like to be able to draw a line under this kind of terrible incident. But somehow they haven't. And that's just made a group of people who were already extraordinarily bruised by what had happened to them, even more upset and angry.

[00:37:06] And the really tragic thing is that by the very nature of the scandal being something that affected people who came here as children in the 1950s and 60s,it means that it's a scandal that that's affecting people who are usually retirement age. And a growing number of the people who I've interviewed about this have died without getting compensation or justice or before having an apology from the Home Office. And I think I mean, I've kind of struggled to make a list of the people I feel most upset about, but certainly I saw Paulette Wilson last almost exactly a year ago when she went with a handful of other campaigners to Downing Street on Windrush Day, which is the 22nd of June to deliver a petition saying you need to speed up giving justice to the Windrush generation because we're getting old.

[00:38:07] And, and that Wilson who actually wasn't that old, I think she was 63 by that point, died last summer. She hadn't got a full compensation payment, and her daughter said that she had become increasingly stressed and angry and unwell about having to go on campaigning and, and trying to make people aware of the severity of what had gone wrong. And it's, it's a real tragedy.

[00:38:39] Isabelle Roughol: [00:38:39] Has it changed how you feel about Britain and its institutions?

[00:38:44] Amelia Gentleman: [00:38:44] I think it made me incredibly thoughtful, when I was doing interviews with dozens and dozens of people affected, about howhow I, as a white, middle-class, British woman, who'sreceived a lot of kind of privilege through the education system, had a pretty unshakable faith, I think, previously in the government, in government institutions to kind of broadly be fair, mostly. And I think I've had that faith really permanently shaken by reporting on this issue.

[00:39:27] I'm really eager to continue talking about what went wrong with Windrush because I am slightly cynical about the strength of commitment to reform that's coming from the Home Office. And I, and I suppose it's something that I'm going to continue writing about because there has, there has been such a detailed program of promised reform from the Home Office that we've yet to see actually materialize. And so I think it's just something that we have to go on reporting on to, to make sure that all of these warm words andapologies and statements of contrition, don't just kind of evaporate into nothing.

[00:40:15] Isabelle Roughol: [00:40:15] Uhum. I was speaking on the podcast last week with Daniel Trilling, who published a long read in your paper about the culture at the Home Office and, and in both our conversation with Daniel and with you, um, one thing that strikes me is that immigration is, is almost kind of a parallel justice system, if you can call that a justice system. But, um, the burden of proof is reversed, right? It's kind of up to the person to prove their innocence or to prove their rights rather than for the home office to do that. You have administrative decisions where you don't have necessarily a judge who sees the person and you have detention that's unlimited. It is kind of perhaps the less democratic corner of our institutions.

[00:41:01] Amelia Gentleman: [00:41:01] Uh, yes. And Daniel Trilling wrote a very, very powerful and well researched portrait of the Home Office. I mean, I think what's so interesting, and again why I think it's so important to go on focusing on this, is that all of the lawyers who work in this area, all of the campaigners who work in this area, MPs who've gotconstituencies with high concentration of immigrants in them, are absolutely aware of all of the flaws of the Home Office system. And the Home Office itself has recognized that it needs to change. So you would hope that those two things together would imminently be resulting in some form of pretty comprehensive change. And yet at the same time as expressing kind of very heartfelt apologies, the home secretary is still almost in the same breath making new announcements about ways to toughen up the refugee and asylum process and to make sure that people who apply for asylum in this country In ways that the Home Office feel are not legitimate, get bad treatment.

[00:42:26] And, and it's just, it's a very curious dissonance, I suppose, to be hearing these two really very contradictory messages at once.

[00:42:38] Isabelle Roughol: [00:42:38] Why do you think that's happening? Is there, is there, you know, kind of a cynical political gain in not building a fairer system?

[00:42:45] Amelia Gentleman: [00:42:45] Well, I mean, I think, I think so. I think, I think it's lots of things. I think that the Home Office is, is this enormous beast with thousands of employees and I'm sure that instituting cultural reform, even if it was at the top of your political list of priorities, would be a complicated thing to do.

[00:43:06] But there is equally a political incentive for continuing to be seen to be being very tough on illegal immigration and on immigration generally. And I think that that's the kind of complicating factor, which led to the Windrush scandal and which is still, you know, hard for politicians to process. Because on the one hand, there is this kind of desire which hasn't fully been sated by Brexit to see a government acting tough on immigration. And on the other hand, there's this kind of need to apologize for things that have gone wrong like Windrush, and you kind of can't really do both.

[00:43:58] Isabelle Roughol: [00:43:58] Well, again, thank you so much for this conversation, it was really enlightening. I appreciate it.

[00:44:03] Amelia Gentleman: [00:44:03] Thank you for asking me. It's been really, really interesting to talk about it.

[00:44:07] Outro

[00:44:07] Isabelle Roughol: [00:44:09] Thank you to Amelia Gentleman for her expertise and this wonderful conversation. Her book, The Windrush Betrayal, is something that I really, really recommend you read. She really gets into the individual, personal and kafkaesque details of some of the people that she reported on and what happened to them. And it's a really powerful story of humanity and a really impressive feat of reporting. You can also continue to follow her reporting on The Guardian, where she continues to cover the Windrush generation among other things.

[00:44:44] I know I've done a lot of episodes on the Home Office lately. This will be the last one in this cycle. We'll broaden things out from the next few weeks. But this is a topic that's really close for me: first, it's an absolutely fascinating institution as I mentioned in the last episode, something I can't look away from. It's also a topic that is very dear to me, as someone who is in a way becoming an immigrant really for the first time and experiencing what the end of free movement means.

[00:45:16] We're going to be widening the lens in coming episodes. We're going to go to China, to Iran, to Syria. So please stay tuned. Subscribe to the podcast, subscribe to the newsletter, borderlinepod. com. Please, please, please support it if you can. And at least for free, share it around you. Tweet, email your friends. Tell everyone. Grab their phone and subscribe to the podcast for them. It really will mean a lot to me and will help me keep this going. Thank you very much.

[00:45:41] I'm your host, Isabelle Roughol. Music is by Ofshane. Borderline is a One Lane Bridge production.

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Isabelle Roughol

Journalist. Founder & host of Borderline. Former international editor of LinkedIn, foreign editor at Le Figaro, reporter at The Cambodia Daily. Global soul, messy accent.


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