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Alex Mvuka Ntung looks at Windrush from a personal perspective

Alex Mvuka Ntung looks at Windrush from a personal perspective

Responding to the Windrush generation ‘crisis’

Alex Ntung is a former refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Hastings was his home from the year 2000 until he moved to Canterbury in 2015. He is currently an Associate Lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Canterbury Christ Church University. He has occupied various roles and responsibilities in the area of community cohesion, and he is a co-founder of Education 4 Diversity charity. He is also the father of two children, both British-born (in the Conquest Hospital). Here, he writes about Windrush from his perspective.

The UK government is currently under rigorous scrutiny over the mismanagement of the legal status for hundreds of the Windrush generation’s sons and daughters. The Empire Windrush was one of the ships that brought migrants to Britain from the Caribbean between 1948 and 1971. Despite the 1971 Immigration Act, which granted people already in the UK indefinite leave to remain, some children of the Windrush generation have been denied services and lost their jobs, others have been illegally detained, threatened to be deported from their own country or denied entry back from their holiday. As a former refugee, a relatively recent migrant, a parent and a naturalised British citizen, the current Windrush scandal leads me to reflect on three questions:

  • Is the official’s response to the ‘crisis’ appropriate?
  • How does not having access to one’s full rights impact on a sense of belonging to a country?
  • What does it mean to be British?

The Windrush generation ‘crisis’ is not just about the right to British citizenship – it is a failure of government inclusion policies and strategies: one of the many issues rooted in a system of ‘othering’ those ‘associated’ with ‘foreignness’ and migration experience. Fundamentally, it is a serious crack in the foundations on which British society has been built.

David Lammy MP

David Lammy MP

About 150 MPs have signed a petition demanding the government resolve the ‘crisis’ and more than 130,000 people have signed a petition demanding amnesty for those who have been affected. There is a wider public outcry pleading to the government to provide fair and just treatment to all migrant people.  Others, including the MP David Lammy, have described the UK government’s actions as ‘grotesque, immoral and inhumane.’ (See his speech here).

While the current petitions and MPs’ demands are useful my question is, would gaining such a right become a victory? reflecting on some responses to the issue it becomes that many proposed solutions would be ineffective. The UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, and her government has reconsidered its position on the Windrush generation. It has admitted that people have been detained or deported by error.  The landing cards which could have provided evidence of residency have been destroyed leading to a Home Office apology. A Home Office Task Force to address the ‘crisis’’ has been set up and government has announced “we are sorry for the confusion and anxiety caused. We value the contribution that has been made by the Commonwealth citizens who have made their lives here in the UK”. The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, has expressed her ‘admiration’ of the people who came from the Caribbean and “contributed so much to our society in many ways”. In addition, she declared that she “will enable children of the Windrush generation to acquire the status they deserve (British Citizenship), I will waive requirements to carry out a knowledge and language of the UK test”.

But there is something wrong with such responses. They reflect a continuation of the deep-rooted moral hierarchy of ‘othering’ attitudes. Whilst waiving requirements to carry out a knowledge and language of the UK test sounds ‘positive offer’, it is an insult to the children of the Windrush generation who have only known UK as their country and are not foreign nationals. For too long, migrants – or those linked to ‘foreignness’ – have been regarded as a temporary labour force, who will eventually return to their countries of origin. Policies have been created as short-term measures and designed to minimise the impact of migrants on ‘indigenous’ citizens or ‘host’ communities.

“Whilst waiving requirements to carry out a knowledge and language of the UK test sounds a ‘positive offer’, it is an insult to the children of the Windrush generation who have only known the UK as their country and are not foreign nationals.” – Alex Ntung

This short-term expectation justifies the government’s officials’ unconscious patronising language that “values” ‘the contribution made by migrants to the British’. Such a narrative, I would argue, is only relevant in evidenced-based research or when responding to false perceptions, for example, the anti-migrant leaders who have portrayed economic migrants as a burden on welfare and a cultural and economic threat. The argument that greatly contributed to the UK should not be used to refer to the settled or intending-to-settle. It reinforces the idea that the indigenous British are the unconditional beneficiaries of ‘rights’, versus the ‘others’, regardless of whether they were born in the UK or not, who must consistently justify their belonging to the UK.

Amber Rudd in parliament during David Lammy’s speech about the Windrush Generation

Home Secretary Amber Rudd MP in parliament during David Lammy’s speech about the Windrush Generation

The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, has added that she is “very concerned that the Home Office has become too concerned about policies and strategies and sometimes loses sights of individuals”. The Windrush scandal can be seen as indefensible and far beyond administrative error but rooted in a structural racialisation of British society – a question of moral and political leadership.

The main arguments dominating media and expert opinion relate mainly to rights and entitlements. This crisis can be seen as the ‘logical’ impact of a hostile policy towards migrants and migration. The current situation is an outcome of systematic exclusion and inequality that has emerged from successive governments in the last 20 years. ‘Fixing’ the citizenship of the Windrush generation and their children would only be a short-term solution to stop an old would from healing.

The Windrush arrivals were young, mostly single people, under the age of 30. Unlike me and my follow refugees who found sanctuary in Britain, this was a convenient arrangement which benefited both parties. After the Second World War the UK desperately needed workers to rebuild its infrastructure. In return, migrants from the West Indies were given economic rights to earn money, with the expectation that they would go back to their countries. But the intention of going back was not achieved : they stayed and settled, and brought their dependents, or got married locally. Like any other human beings their aspirations changed and they pursued other goals, such as owning a house, having a family, voting and being elected, going on holiday, participating in local and national events and opening a business. The needs and aspirations of the second generation went beyond social and economic rights to a sense of belonging, shared national identity and values. At the same time UK integrations policies unintentionally based on ‘othering’ failed to make the provision to enable these aspirations to be fulfilled. The concept of Citizenship is based on two important aspects: social practice and legality. The social practice aspect involves shared identity and values, belonging to a place, participation in the community, and negotiating a relationship with those around us in day-to-day life. The legal status concerns rights granted to people, such as access to welfare support, education, justice, equal or relevant life chances for all, liberty, freedom, social justice, and participation in the political system.

The Windrush generation children are now pensioners and many fear deportations. They have suddenly been denied the security of what it means to be British. Some already feel stripped of dignity and like ‘outsiders’ in the only country they have ever known. They have not enjoyed full access to rights, have faced discrimination through inadequate policies and discrimination story structures and institutions. The debate must go beyond mending the pain and injuries caused by institutional racism and tackle the underlying issues linked to the meaning of equality, fairness, respect, justice and dignity, and attitudes that prevent full participation in social, civil, cultural and economic life. Government policies should lead radical changes in social and economic institutions, but also result in an end to attitude that automatically others those who look or act differently. The patronising language used to defend migrants referring only to the contributions they have made must be questioned. What we have contributed is not the only qualification for Britishness.

You can read about Alex Ntung’s autobiography, Not my worst day, here.

Posted 10:11 Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018 In: Hastings People

7 Comments


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  1. Alex Ntung

    Important corrections.
    1. My earlier reply was aimed at DAR.
    2. I meant to say that my choice of where to seek sanctuary would NEVER have been Belgium due to the history I have talked about.

    Comment by Alex Ntung — Thursday, May 3, 2018 @ 12:32

  2. Alex Ntung

    To Bogbrush. Firstly, a healthy and constructive debate tends to focus on ideas rather than individuals who have expressed those ideas. I have expressed my political ideas like any other British citizen. The only difference is that, because of the nature of the Windrush generation crisis, I have referred to my personal journey as illustration only. This cannot be used to divert from the ideas being discussed. Otherwise, some of your opinions may be subconsciously influenced by the ‘othering’ values. Open mindness is to focus on what our interlocutors are talking about than who they are personally or their personal experiences. For example, I have neither made any personal reference about Amber Rudd, MP nor her identity and how she became British citizen. However, as you have asked some personal questions, I am happy to answer these:

    1. I have not chosen to come to the UK because I did not know much about it. Frankly, all I knew about the UK was princess Diana (and she was dead – this could not be a pulling factor).
    2. Before I came to the UK, I had tried more than three times to move to other relatively safe Africa countries in the region and whenever there was ceasefire (interruption of violence) in DRC, I went back to home (DRC). I would recommend reading my book and understand the complexities of my region.
    3. Yes, DRC was colonised by Belgium. You have referred to this to indicate that because Belgians colonised, I should have gone to Belgium. If I had a choice of where to go it would not have been UK because I knew nothing about the UK. It would have been Belgium because of the history of colonialism. In DRC, Belgium had one of the most brutal colonial powers, it has enslaved nearly the whole country of 32.000.000 people as part of exploiting rubber which was a precious and very lucrative materials and on demand at the time. As result 12.000.000 Congolese people died – it is one of the world’s most unreported genocides. As part of these atrocities, my own family was affected. Colonial police decided to ‘releguer’ (a French word which means forcibly relocate/removal of someone or people to unknown place) my great grandfather (who was a local very influential king). They destroyed his kingdom, he was forcibly taken with his family, sub clans, clans and community (over 700 families) to live (against their will) near the Congo rain forest. Here, they all suffered from a disease called Trypanosomiasis (sleeping disease), they lost their animals (over a two thousand cows) and most of the families died. My father was born in this ‘concentration camp’ and ‘miraculously’ he survived. If you were me, would you love to go to Belgium to seek sanctuary?

    4. Where I mentioned ‘Britishness’ I did not mean British citizen as you thought. My article argues that the question is beyond rights to British citizenship. I explained what both terms are about. Please re-read.

    Comment by Alex Ntung — Thursday, May 3, 2018 @ 12:27

  3. Alison Cooper

    Bogbrush
    I thought you were being reasonably intelligent until you stated to Mr Ntung “Probably just that almost anywhere is better (than) the place you came from”. ???? Really?

    Comment by Alison Cooper — Monday, Apr 30, 2018 @ 20:56

  4. DAR

    Wasn’t Belgium the former colonial power of the DRC? Why didn’t Mr. Ntung seek refuge there? Or, more obviously, a safe African country?

    As to the Windrush affair, yes, an unfair mess – but it should not distract from the fact that, as “bogbrush” says, we have had nothing but lax immigration controls for decades, the worst under New Labour.The idea of “open borders” is foolish in a world of economic inequality and political oppression, particularly in a geographically small patch of land such as Britain. For example, I suggest the so-called housing crisis is a product of increased demand (at least 5 MILLION extra people since 2006 (source: ONS) rather than supply, for example. We need what green land we have for food security as well as recreation, and land is a finite resource which cannot sustain unlimited and unpredictable numbers of people.

    I don’t blame migrants for wanting “a better life”;past and present politicians are to blame – not least, ironically, Enoch Powell, who has been named as one of those who “invited” migrants to come to Britain in the 1950s.

    Comment by DAR — Monday, Apr 30, 2018 @ 13:41

  5. bogbrush

    The 1948 British Nationality act had the remarkable effect of enabling 450 million people living in the countries of the former British Empire, subsequently members of the Commonwealth, to migrate to Britain as British citizens, whilst if they so desired retaining citizenship of the commonwealth country of their birth. The first to realise the remarkable opportunity that this opening of the borders presented, were on board a charter vessel – The Windrush, who left their native Caribbean Islands looking for a better life and chance of employment in Britain. And who can say they should not have taken this opportunity, whether invited or not (according to David Goodhart’s well researched book ‘The British Dream’ invitation to help rebuild Britain is largely a polite fiction). Lets pass on to the present difficulties of people who having come here under the 1948 act before its eventual replacement in 1971, had never taken steps to establish documentary citizenship and whose best evidence of having been here from before 1971 was destroyed when landing cards were destroyed (under the labour government). That is the same labour government who in 1997 relaxed all migration rules leading immediately to a 10 fold increase in rate of migration to Britain. Now everyone knows you cannot have open borders and a welfare system (or even a country at all if the borders are completely open). The British people are no more xenophobic then any other nation, xenophobia being a natural precautionary evolutionary defense. Over the long years of our prehistoric wanderings and indeed amongst hunter gatherers today, the natural expectation of foreigners is that they are a raiding party come to conquer and do what conquerors do. So indeed was the response to the early Windrush generation (see ‘Why I no longer talk to white people about race’ by Renni Eddo-Lodge, for a reminder). So the stage was set for a backlash to the very striking fact that half a million people were arriving into a country not doing very well economically, that had deindustrialised and had not many good employment opportunities to non-graduates and an infrastructure geared for a population of about 50 million. The realisation that, along with 5 million new migrants per decade, there was a large and growing number of people who were here illegally , led to strong popular desire, indeed massive (by opinion poll estimates), to slow migration. This is true even amongst people of other than British ethnicity. In this case the desire of our politicians to respond to the strongly expressed will of the people to better regulate migration and remove people here illegally led to a ‘hostile environment for migration’ which was in effect, just a real effort to enforce the law on illegal migration to these shores.
    This is not heinous, just enforcing the law. Law which had only rather laxly been enforced prior to the opening of the borders and the backlash against unprecedented levels of migration since 1997. So to respond to Mr Ntung’s comments, the qualification for ‘Britishness’ by which I think he means ‘British Citizenship’ is certainly not that one has done any thing at all to contribute to Britain, just that you have the necessary legal qualifications as determined by statute law and can prove them to the satisfaction of the relevant authority. After that you have the same rights as any one else who can claim such citizenship, for example by the mere fact of being born here to British citizens (e.g myself). That is it. You may not like Britain or British people or any of the customs or history of the country. Once you are in you are in. Why you would want to stay when this is such an awful place one can only conjecture. Probably just that almost anywhere is better the place you came from. I for one do not for one moment dispute Mr Ntung’s reasons for being here, even if he finds our policies and politicians so odious. I disagree with him but defend to the death his right to hold and defend his opinions. Ultimately if we want to have a country we have to determine who shall and shall not be permitted to stay here, as do all countries from the DRC to China and Japan. The rules of such determination should be carried out humanely and fairly. If they are just laxly applied and abused there is a backlash and wall building, like in Turkey to name but one example.

    Comment by bogbrush — Sunday, Apr 29, 2018 @ 22:43

  6. Stephen Waters

    I was disgusted to hear about this in the news and find it difficult to believe that the Home Secretary has not resigned over the issue. David Lammy gave a powerful speech in defence of the Windrush generation in the House of Commons. I believe that some of the first migrants from the Caribbean were housed in Bellenden Road, Peckham, which is near where I was brought up. It was always a very working class area but I hardly recognised it when I last went there. Due to gentrification it has completely changed and is now known by the locals as Bellenden Village! I hope the people who were threatened with deportation are adequately compensated. They have worked hard for this country and don’t deserve to be treated like this.

    Comment by Stephen Waters — Thursday, Apr 26, 2018 @ 07:15

  7. Ms.Doubtfire

    The Windrush scandal is shameful – those who authorised this draconian immigration Act should hang their heads in shame. How many knew about it? What publicity was produced to alert those who needed to know?
    There are British citizens trapped in Jamaica at this very moment who cannot come back to their families here in the UK. Likewise there are those who are fearful to leave the UK to visit family in the Caribbean becaue they may not be able to gain entry back into the UK.
    When these people came to Britain in the 40’s and 50’s they all carried a British passport issued by the British government. There was never any question that these people should return to the West Indies. There was never any suggestion that at some unspecified time their British citizenship would be at risk.
    Many Jamaicans decided to apply for a Jamaican passport when Jamaica gained independence in 1962 – this did not nullify their British citizenship or detract from their loyalty to this country – it created a dual nationality. And even this situation is causing problems with the UK government who seem unaware that a resident can hold dual nationality without compromising their status in either country.
    One has to ask, do we have incompetents running our immigration services here?

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018 @ 09:03

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