Concerned by attack on our values

Fiona Onasanya column
Fiona Onasanya column

Britain is a nation of immigrants; I am very well aware that if many of our ancestors hadn’t taken a chance, packed up their belongings and decided to establish a new life in the United Kingdom, many of us would not be where we are or indeed leading the lives we lead.

My heart swells with pride on days like St George’s Day that I live in a country which has been so open, welcoming, and given so many people the chance to fulfil their dreams.

Britain has always had a positive, open attitude to immigrants and refugees: during World War One, Britain took in refugees from Belgium. Earlier, Britain took in Huguenot refugees from France: they were fundamental in building up Thorney village.

Dig beneath the soil of this land and you find the remnants of Romans, Angles, Saxons, and Normans. Britain’s strength has come from a general tolerance, an ability to absorb new influences, and to make diversity its strength.

Given this, what has happened to the Windrush generation should shake us to the core; it is more than bureaucratic bungling, it is a fundamental attack on the values that underline this nation. Let’s review our history: after the Second World War, there was a labour shortage. We needed people to help rebuild our shattered cities and factories, to run our trains, to staff our hospitals. The invitation was sent out, and the Windrush generation responded. They were essential in creating post-war prosperity.

Many of these people have since retired; some of their children who came with them are close to retirement. They have lived peaceably, paid their taxes, and worked. They bought homes, attended church, and helped their grandchildren go to university. They are a vital part of our communities; this is true as much in Peterborough as in any other part of the United Kingdom.

The government apparently doesn’t see it this way: they see targets for removal of immigrants, and have applied a broad brush stroke towards reaching that goal. Regardless of how long people have been here, how long they have worked, how much they have contributed, the government is essentially saying, “We have a target, if we don’t have the right documentation, you have to go.” To simply apologise for this debacle is not enough. Accountability is required: the UKBA ordered the records’ destruction, why didn’t Theresa May, as Home Secretary, digitise these vital documents before carrying out their elimination in October 2010?

Surely that would have eliminated any issue with their storage. Why has the bias been to deport now, apologise later?

The Windrush generation deserves answers and restitution.