All Windrush cases will be dealt with within two weeks, a government minister has pledged, as Amber Rudd prepares to be questioned by MPs on the home affairs select committee.
Nadhim Zahawi, the children and families minister, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the affair could be resolved by early May.
“I think the focus has to be Windrush. The home secretary has said look, we’ve set up a taskforce, in two weeks we’ll have dealt with all the Windrush cases including compensation. I think that has to be the focus,” Zahawi said.
The tightness of the timetable is bound to be raised with Rudd later on Wednesday. There are no details yet of compensation, which would have to cover everything from legal costs to missed flights and the emotional loss of being unable to attend family events such as funerals and weddings, although the home secretary is expected to provide more information to the home affairs committee on Wednesday morning.
In the Commons on Monday, Rudd said she was so impressed with the work of immigration staff at Croydon that the process could be speedily completed.
She said: “Although I made a statement last week that said that, from the point of getting information, we hope to deliver the outcome within two weeks, I am reassured that most of the cases – small numbers for now – are being turned round very quickly indeed.
“The approach that I have asked for, which is for the people who are working on this taskforce to lean in and to assist with the problem, has absolutely been acted on.”
How the Guardian broke the story
In November last year, Paulette Wilson (left), who has lived in the UK for more than half a century, spoke to the Guardian’s Amelia Gentleman about her treatment at the hands of the Home Office – and revealed that she had been held at Yarl’s Wood detention centre and threatened with deportation. It was the first of a series of stories that developed a picture of how many members of the Windrush generation were being mistreated by the government under the so-called ‘hostile environment’ policy. By February, with other examples mounting, the government had relented in Wilson’s case, but faced acute criticism from Caribbean diplomats who urged the Home Office to adopt a “more compassionate” approach.
In March the story of Albert Thompson – who had lived in Britain for 44 years but was told to produce a passport or face a bill of £54,000 for cancer treatment – forced attention back to the growing crisis. After the Guardian reported a string of additional cases matters came to a head when Theresa May refused to meet with Caribbean diplomats to discuss the issue, prompted fury among opposition MPs and a wider media backlash. After days of negative publicity Rudd and May were forced to change tack and issued apologies, promised reforms – and eventually gave the Windrush generation a fast-track to citizenship.
However, MPs have been inundated with new claimants. The Labour MP David Lammy, who has led the campaign in the Commons, said nine previously unknown people had come forward to him in the first part of Tuesday.
It is also becoming clear that a growing number, potentially hundreds, of people who came from the Commonwealth have faced extreme difficulty in regularising their status.
There will be considerable confusion over the question of who qualifies as a Windrush case. Rudd pledged that all Commonwealth arrivals before 1988 would have access to the hotline for dealing with such cases.
There are also anxieties over the hotline itself and how the Home Office will treat people who come forward to the taskforce set up to handle members of the Windrush generation and their children who have never regularised their immigration status, if they cannot meet the new, lower, standards of proof.
Although Rudd has tried to reassure them they will be safe, there is no clarity over what happens to data from anyone subsequently rejected for citizenship or indefinite leave to remain.
Lammy is pressing for a broad exemption to be applied, short of an amnesty but covering people from a particular generation.
But Zahawi said people who were in the UK illegally should not be here. He was responding to reports that Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, had proposed an amnesty at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting as a way of dealing swiftly with the Windrush scandal.
“The question assumes that illegal immigrants should have the same status as people over here legally whether they are of immigrant stock or are British-born and bred, and I think that’s wrong,” said Zahawi.
“Actually, most of your listeners including myself and my parents and other immigrants, will think if you’re here illegally and working illegally then you really shouldn’t be here.”