Anthony Bryan’s ordeal was about to be dramatised in a BBC drama, Sitting in Limbo. Then the phone rang, says Guardian reporter Amelia Gentleman
Hubert Howard has died three weeks after being granted British citizenship, 59 years after arriving in UK
A government watchdog has launched an investigation into the Home Office’s decision to accuse about 34,000 international students of cheating in English language tests, and will scrutinise the thinking behind the subsequent cancellation or curtailment of their visas.
More than 1,000 students have been removed from the UK as a result of the accusation and hundreds have spent time in detention, but large numbers of students say they were wrongly accused. Over 300 cases are pending in the court of appeal as hundreds attempt to clear their names. MPs have warned that this immigration scandal could be “bigger than Windrush”.
The National Audit Office (NAO) has been making preliminary inquiries into the government’s handling of the issue since the beginning of the year, and has now announced that it will proceed with a formal investigation. The body is expected to report its findings in late May or June.
Last week mass deportations resumed in Britain. It’s less than a year since the Windrush scandal broke – and the review into the events leading up to it hasn’t even reported back yet. This was a stark reminder that the government’s “compliant environment” policies have changed in name only: otherwise they remain as hostile as ever and continue to destroy the lives of black and ethnic minority people (BME) people – many of whom have lived in the UK since they were children.
Before the deportation flight the home secretary, Sajid Javid, declared that many of the “foreign national offenders” on the flight had committed “very serious crimes” – but soon after this the Home Office admitted that most of the deportees had committed minor crimes such as single drug or driving offences. More worryingly, 13 people on the Jamaican charter flight had come to the UK as children – nine of them were under the age of 10, 11 had indefinite leave to remain (ILR), and one person even had a British passport. Not only were most of the people on this flight “more British than foreign”, they were also being punished twice (three times if you include immigration detention) for crimes they had already served sentences for.
Tasfin came to the UK in 1962 from Bangladesh, or what was then called East Pakistan. He was 19 years old. Orphaned during the brutal partition of India by the departing British, he had been working since the age of 12 for an American company in the port city of Chittagong. He made tea, unloaded containers, repaired cars and swept floors. And he eventually concluded that the only way to ensure a better life for himself was to scrape together the fare for a one-way ride to the Tilbury Docks. As a citizen of the Commonwealth, he enjoyed this right to move to the United Kingdom, as did all those now fondly referred to as the “Windrush generation”.
Now 84, Tasfin lives in Tooting, south London, with the eldest of his three sons, surrounded by grandchildren, the youngest of whom will be sitting her GCSEs in a few months’ time. After working for over 40 years on the London Underground, he retired a few months after his wife passed away and struggles with chronic arthritis.
We meet by chance on the No 44 bus and Tasfin, it turns out, is on his way to apply for his first passport. He proudly tells me, “Her Majesty’s Government wrote me a letter to say that I am now a British citizen.”
As with so many others, Tasfin’s journey to this point had started with a routine interaction with the state turning his entire life upside down. In this case it was a visit to an outpatient NHS service in late 2017, where he was asked to prove his immigration status. Having never had the means to travel, Tasfin had never possessed a passport. “My wife was better with paperwork but she had already quit and gone upstairs.” So this elderly man was swallowed whole by the hostile environment.
With no access to healthcare, Tasfin had no way of knowing that the pain in his legs was because of easily treatable blood clots, and he slowly stopped trying to walk at all. By last April there were letters arriving from the Home Office, threatening removal. “I didn’t leave my house or even open the curtains, I was so scared that they would snatch me and take me away”.
Tasfin tells me that he had read about the Windrush scandal in his newspaper and seen it on TV. But “I didn’t come from the Caribbean so I didn’t think it was the same thing”, says Tasfin. It was months before a lawyer attending his mosque heard about Tasfin’s problems and helped him call the Windrush Taskforce. “Alhamdulillah [praise be to God] he said something or I might not be here.”
I am only 23, but I stand with the Windrush generation because I know what it’s like to suddenly feel unwelcome and unwanted in the country where you’ve lived most of your life, and which you thought was your home.
I was born in Jamaica but arrived in the UK aged eight to join my mum. I loved school, and in my final year was made head girl at Clapton Girls’ academy. I was so excited when I won a place at LSE to study law in 2013.
It was only then that I realised that my immigration status meant I would not be able to take up my place. I contacted the charity Just for Kids Law with a few questions about the Ucas process, but it became clear that my situation was far more complicated than I first imagined.
I spent the next few weeks in complete shock. I discovered that, rather than having “unsettled” status in the country I call my home, I had no “lawful” status at all. I made numerous phone calls to the Home Office, and was initially told that my family had a valid application and that our documents would be with us in a few weeks.
But this didn’t turn out to be the case. I was in the Just for Kids Law offices, desperate to take up my place at university, when I made the final call. I remember listening to the woman on the other end of the phone tell me that, despite what I had previously been informed, I had no status nor an active application at all. I went numb.