By Amber Milne
LONDON: The death of a prominent campaigner this week has increased pressure on Britain’s government to speed up compensation payments to thousands of “Windrush generation” Caribbean migrants who were wrongly identified as illegal immigrants.
Paulette Wilson, 64, died just weeks after she and other Windrush activists went to parliament to present a petition signed by more than 130,000 people that urged the government to accelerate the payouts.
“Paulette will be sadly missed,” said Arthur Torrington, director of the Windrush Foundation. “She campaigned for justice… to address government failings that caused misery to thousands of Caribbean men and women.”
The government apologised in 2018 for the “appalling” treatment of thousands of migrants who were denied basic rights due to the tightening of immigration laws despite having arrived legally and lived in Britain for decades.
The Windrush Compensation Scheme was launched last year to compensate those affected, but campaigners say few have received payouts due to long waiting times and complex bureaucratic procedures.
“None of us envisioned that two years on people would still be waiting,” Jacqueline McKenzie, a lawyer representing hundreds of Windrush victims, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“People are waiting an inordinate length of time and the request for more and more information is really problematic, people can’t cope with it,” she added.
McKenzie said many of her elderly clients have been asked to provide additional documentation about circumstances 50 years ago to support their claim.
Some have died while awaiting a decision.
Wilson’s death comes shortly after British interior minister Priti Patel said it was “absolutely unacceptable that people have died” before receiving compensation, and pledged to implement “whatever measures are required”.
Successful claimants receive “ridiculous” amounts, McKenzie added, such as 500 pounds ($637.95) for those who could not attend university because of their immigration status, and the same amount for legal fees – which can run into thousands.
A report on the Windrush scandal published in March and commissioned by the British government found that “institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race” played a part in the government response.
McKenzie said she believed racism had played a role in the scandal.
A government spokesman said decisions were being made on claims as quickly as possible.
“The Home Secretary (interior minister) has been clear that the mistreatment of the Windrush generation by successive governments was completely unacceptable and that she is determined to right those wrongs,” the spokesman said.
Of the 1,391 applications made to the Windrush Compensation Scheme so far, 154 people have been offered recompense.
The spokesman said the first payment was made within four months of the scheme’s launch and that 1.5 million pounds had already been paid.