The Windrush scandal belongs to a much longer arc of Caribbean-British transmigration, forced and free. The genesis of the scandal can be found in the post–World War II period, when Caribbean migration was at first strongly encouraged and then increasingly harshly constrained. This reflection traces the effects of these changes as they were experienced in the lives of individuals and families. In the Caribbean this recent scandal is understood as extending the longer history of colonial relations between Britain and the Caribbean and as a further reason to demand reparations for slavery. Experiences of the Windrush generation recall the limbo dance of the middle passage; the dancer moves under a bar that is gradually lowered until a mere slit remains.
Symbols and Lived Experiences in Caribbean Migration to the UK
Huon Wardle and Laura Obermuller
Migration, documents and bureaucracy
Stories of those who were victims of the Windrush scandal are characterised by tales of long-lost documents and urgent quests to procure paperwork – maternity certificates, payslips, dental records, school reports – that would attest to a lifetime spent in the United Kingdom. The so-called Windrush generation came to need this paperwork because, although unbeknown to most, the 1971 Immigration Act demanded that from 1973, all migrants must document their ‘legal’ presence in the UK. It was, however, only from 2014 – because of changes in legislation – that now retirement-age Commonwealth citizens, most of whom had migrated to the United Kingdom as children, found themselves facing deportation back to countries that many had not visited for decades (for a historical account of the legislation and politics that led to the Windrush scandal, see Olusoga 2019). The 2014 Immigration Act deleted a key clause of the 1999 legislation that had provided long-standing Commonwealth residents with protection from enforced removal (Taylor 2018). Some of those affected by this updated legislation report that they believed themselves to be legitimate citizens of the British state and therefore did not need to prove their right to be resident through such documentation (for case studies, see Gentleman 2019). In this case, as well as in common-sense thought more generally, documents and paperwork are understood to hold the ‘truth’. Uncover it and their holder’s rightful status will be triumphantly revealed. As such, documents are imagined to act as unambiguous mechanisms of inclusion, their absence therefore denoting the exact opposite.