By Andrew MacAskill
LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May is under pressure to resolve the status of thousands of British residents who arrived from the Caribbean decades ago and are now being denied basic rights after being incorrectly identified as illegal immigrants.
More than 140 members of parliament have signed a letter to the prime minister calling on her to resolve an anomaly that means many people who arrived in Britain as children between 1948 and 1971 are being denied health services, prevented from working and in some cases threatened with deportation.
There is growing anger that long-term British residents have fallen victim to rule changes in 2012 aimed at stopping overstaying. This meant that their legal status changed despite living, working and paying tax in Britain for decades.
Many have been told they need evidence including passports to continue working or getting health treatment. But many arrived on their parents’ documentation and never formally applied for British citizenship or a passport.
The immigrants are named after the Windrush, one of the first ships that brought Caribbean migrants to Britain in 1948 in the aftermath of World War Two, when labour shortages meant that people from the Commonwealth, a network of mostly former British colonies, were invited to help rebuild the economy.
“It’s disgraceful that the rights of the Windrush Generation have been brought into question by this government and that some have been wrongfully deported,” said Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party.
Almost half a million people left their homes in the West Indies to live in Britain between 1948 and 1970, according to Britain’s National Archives.
British media have reported cases such as a man who was denied treatment for cancer and a special needs teaching assistant who lost his job after being accused of being illegal immigrants despite living in Britain for more than 40 years.
The communities and local government minister Sajid Javid said he was “deeply concerned” by the issues and the government is looking into solutions.
“This should not happen to people who have been longstanding pillars of our community,” he said.
Interior minister Amber Rudd is set to announce a team to ensure no one will lose services or entitlements, and that if people apply for new documents, the usual fees will be waived, the BBC reported.
The British government last week refused a request from the high commissioners of 12 Caribbean nations for a dedicated meeting on the subject at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London this week.
May only became aware of a request for a meeting on Monday morning, and will discuss the issue with counterparts from Caribbean nations this week, her spokesman said.
“She is aware that many people are unlikely to have documents that are over 40 years old, and she is clear that no one with the right to be here will be made to leave,” the spokesman said.
A Home Office official said the rejection had been because the subject of the meeting was not clear.
An online petition calling for an amnesty for those who arrived in Britain from Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean as children, and a lowering of the level of documentary proof required from people who have lived here since they were children, has now attracted more than 136,000 signatures.
(Additional reporting By Elizabeth Piper; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Kevin Liffey)