Seventy-two years ago today, HMS Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury. Its arrival marked a significant moment in British History. Many of the passengers on-board came from the Caribbean, by invitation, to support the reconstruction of our country. Their hard work and skills would later bolster the economy, fill labour shortages and help establish our National Health Service.
These brave men and women arrived on our shores hopeful, but they were not met with open arms
I came to Britain from Trinidad in 1960 when I was 10 years old and saw first-hand the sacrifices, hardships and challenges faced by the people who responded to that invitation. Those brave men and women arrived on our shores hopeful, but they were not met with open arms. Many encountered racism, discrimination, and rejection. Yet, they persevered. Children like myself also often had to face adversity and hostility on a daily basis, at school and on the streets. Some of those children are now embroiled and caught up in the Windrush Scandal. They are being asked after 50 years of being in Britain, to prove they have a right to live in this country, a place they have spent all their lives and call home. I too could have so easily been one of these victims had I not arrived here on my own passport.
The Windrush Scandal openly exposed deep-rooted failings in the Home Office and laid bare the injustices faced by the people who helped to make Britain the success it is today. This was recently portrayed so emotionally in the BBC drama ‘Sitting in Limbo’.
But the scandal isn’t over. Many people are still dealing with the consequences of lost jobs, home evictions and wrongful deportations. And although it’s been a year since the Windrush Compensation Scheme was launched, only a handful people out of over a thousand applicants have received payments. This is shameful and simply unacceptable.
The scandal isn’t over. Many people are still dealing with the consequences of lost jobs, home evictions and wrongful deportations
The last few weeks have once again exposed deep-seated racial inequalities. The disproportionate number of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people dying in this pandemic and the killing of George Floyd, are a sharp reminder of the systemic and institutional discrimination in our society today.
I am the Chair of the Windrush Commemoration Committee, charged with commissioning a Windrush Monument to celebrate the major contribution the Windrush Generation has made to Britain. This will be unveiled to commemorate Windrush in 2022.
Meanwhile on this Windrush Day, we honour the outstanding economic, social, and cultural influence of the Windrush Generation. As we honour their legacy, let us also vow to never become complacent in standing up to bigotry, hate and injustice. Let us strengthen our commitment to build a new Britain that is fair and just for everyone, without exception. What a wonderful legacy that would be for our children and future generations.
Baroness Floella Benjamin, DBE is Chair of the Windrush Commemoration Committee