After three tours of Northern Ireland and seeing 21 of his friends killed in one day, Tony Downie has gone far beyond what any average person would to show his dedication to his country. And yet, despite putting his body and mind on the line as a soldier in the British Army, Tony was removed from squad photos because of his skin colour.
Worse still, as a child of the Windrush generation, moving to the UK at the age of 16, he was almost deported because the Government incorrectly said he had no right to be in the country, despite the service he’d given it. In 1980, Tony left the army suffering from PTSD. It would be ten years later that the army veteran would get his first taste of Home Office hospitality when he was threatened with deportation because the authorities said he wasn’t British.
Although released on ‘immigration bail’ Tony had experienced a warning shot of things to come, a scandal that was bubbling under the surface of British society waiting to boil over. In 2017 this would become known as the Windrush Scandal where people from the British Commonwealth countries and colonies were kicked out of the country they’d been invited to move to – even though some had lived here for decades.
Tony found the Home Office knocking again in 2008 and this time they seemed determined to deport the veteran. He explained: “They arrested me again in 2008 and this time they told me I wasn’t getting bail. I was in Colnbrook deportation centre (at Heathrow), then the Citadel deportation centre.
“I’m supposed to fly on the Monday and on the Friday the legal officer went through the documents and said, ‘you can’t put this man on a plane, he’s exempt from deportation’, so everything they did to me, they did it wrongfully and illegally, because I’m exempt.”
Tony’s story is sadly far from unique, as part of the Windrush generation – people encouraged over to Britain from the Caribbean between 1948 and 1973 to fill important jobs in the NHS and other public institutions including the Army.
During the years that followed their arrival, the Windrush generation and their descendants have been left without basic legal protections that recognise them as British citizens, through no fault of their own. This was something the government had to confront in 2017, introducing the Windrush Compensation Scheme which has already paid out millions to those affected.
However, it has not solved the legal loophole that many from the Windrush generation and their descendants face. Margaret Noel from Ealing-based charity Descendants, moved to the UK when she was eight.
She worked for the government for decades as a probation officer and is a pillar of the community. Despite, coming to the UK with a British passport and living here for over 60 years she says she still had to pay over £100 to ‘naturalise’ to receive travel documents.
Margaret says that the constant undermining of the Windrush generation’s legal status has had a knock-on effect, with descendants not always receiving British citizenship despite being born here. “I know people that have children and because they were born after a certain time they didn’t have a passport.”
The continuing ramifications of the Windrush Scandal are something that Margret is still struggling with to this day. “What’s hurtful is that I have been here for 62 years now, and my children aren’t even settled. I think that is the hurtful part of it, how many generations on, and they are still not being treated right.”
Katie Wilson-Downie, Tony’s daughter, has been fighting for wider recognition of these issues and says that the current Windrush Compensation Scheme is not fit for purpose and is poorly advertised. The complicated process of applying for compensation has meant that many people have died waiting for money.
Margaret says she has never applied because the 44-page form was too much for her. “I have advertised it myself and while I could go and get the compensation, I have never done it because I think ‘oh my god that just seems like a nightmare and I’m not going to be putting myself through that’. A lot of people have died while going through the process, so why put yourself through the extra stress for something you aren’t even going to see.”
This is a stress Tony knows all too well. He has filled out the form, which he says took a psychological toll. “It’s like you got this wound and it’s slowly healing but you can’t get the tissue to properly heal and you have locked it in an imaginary room and then the questions and the way they go about it, 44 pages for a primary claimant, it opens that door and you are reliving it all over again. Sometimes I would be writing out my application and I break down in tears.”
Katie has made it her mission to help other members of the Windrush Generation get the help and support they need to fill out the forms and has just received funding to run advice workshops. These are something Cllr Gary Malcolm, leader of Ealing Council Liberal Democrats, is attempting to introduce to the borough.
He has worked hard to link Katie and Magaret together and get the ball rolling on helping Ealing’s Caribbean community navigate the complex process of finally getting compensation. Successful applicants receive a minimum of £10,000 in compensation, with Home Office figures showing that 11 people have been offered or paid the maximum of between £200,000 and £300,000. The latest data shows that as of the end of July 2023, £67.59m had been paid across 1,820 claims and a further £11.71 million had been offered.
Katie is clear that there is much work to be done and has called on the government to make changes to improve both the scheme and the legal position of the Windrush Generation and their descendants. She wants them to:
- Simply the application process
- Provide psychological support to those affected
- Make the process more transparent
- Solidify the legal position of Windrush people and their descendants with the introduction of a Windrush Act
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The whole of government remain absolutely committed to righting the wrongs of the Windrush scandal. Extensive support is in place to help people access the Windrush Compensation Scheme. Already we have paid or offered more than £79 million in compensation to those affected and we continue to make improvements, so people receive the maximum award as quickly as possible.”