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UK equality body to review government over Windrush scandal

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s official equality human rights watchdog said Friday it would use its statutory powers to assess the U.K.'s Home Office over tough new rules that from 2012 aimed at creating a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants.

The Home Office's strategy, which was then led by the future prime minister, Theresa May, was aimed at deterring illegal immigration. But it led to thousands of legal long-time U.K. residents, mainly from the Caribbean, being wrongly denied rights, losing their jobs, and in some cases being deported to places they barely knew.

The so-called Windrush generation, named after the ship “Empire Windrush” that in 1948 brought hundreds of Caribbean immigrants to Britain, helped rebuild the country after the devastation of World War II.

They, and subsequent Caribbean migrants, came from British colonies or former colonies and had an automatic right to settle in the U.K. But some became ensnared by the “hostile environment” approach. In recent years, some of them, now elderly, were refused medical care or threatened with deportation because they could not produce paperwork proving their right to reside in the U.K. Some were even deported.

Equality and Human Rights Commission Chairman David Isaac said the impact of the coronavirus and the brutal police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 had accentuated the need to end “systemic and entrenched race inequalities” in the U.K.

“The Windrush scandal and hostile environment policies have cast a shadow across the U.K. and its values," he said. “We are working with the Home Office to determine what must change so that this shameful period of our history is not repeated.”

The commission said its assessment will draw on the work of a government-sanctioned review in March. It concluded that the Home Office exhibited “institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness” towards the issue of race and the history of the Caribbean immigrants that were “consistent with some definitions of institutional racism."

The Conservative government apologized and the Home Office has committed to acting on the 30 recommendations made by the Williams Windrush Lessons Learned Review. In particular, the commission said it will look at how the Home Office “understood, monitored and reviewed the impact of placing increasingly onerous documentation requirements” on the Windrush generation.

The commission has a range of enforcement powers and regulatory options that could be considered after an assessment, including entering into a legally binding agreement with the Home Office for a set of actions for improvement.

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