Racism in the UK: the effects of a 'hostile environment'

Racism in the UK: the effects of a 'hostile environment'

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

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LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP)— Ijeoma Moore came to Britain from Nigeria as a toddler and is now 25. "I have lived here since I was two. I feel very much British," she said.

But two years after a scandal involving the "Windrush" generation of 500,000 Caribbean migrants who came to Britain after World War Two, race and identity remain hot topics.

The death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, during a US police arrest has sparked a wave of Black Lives Matter protests across the country.

And there have been calls to take down colonial-era statues to figures who were involved in, or profited from, the international slave trade.

Moore said she cannot remember having studied colonialism at school and was shocked at the treatment of some of the Windrush migrants.

They were supposed to have been granted British citizenship but still had to prove every year they had a right to remain, under threat of expulsion.

"If that happened to them, what could happen to me?" she asked.

Currently, Moore herself has only a limited right to remain in Britain, which means she has to renew her papers every 30 months.

It takes 10 years to get permanent resident status, and then another year to apply for British nationality in what she said was a "very complicated" — and expensive — process.

"I think I paid £1,500 (US$1,840, 1,640 euros) the last time I made my application back in 2017. The next one is this year and the fees have increased again," she said.

"I am looking to pay at least £3,000 for my next application."

She is now a member of the We Belong group of young migrants, born abroad but who have grown up in Britain, and have had to battle "hostile" government immigration policies.

"They (the government) should not look at black people or migrants like they are bad things but see how much they contribute to society," she added.

- 'Right the wrongs' -

Although the British government has promised to "right the wrongs" suffered by the Windrush migrants from its former colonies, many of the victims are still bitter.

"We don't matter," said Anthony Bryan, 63, who arrived in Britain in 1965.

Several decades later, he found himself placed in detention twice and threatened with deportation. But at the very last moment, lawyers managed to secure his release.

The experience left him traumatised, he said, and he is still waiting for compensation. But he has at least received his British passport, which meant he could visit his mother in Jamaica in 2018, the first time he had left the country in 53 years.

With other activists, he recently brought a petition signed by more than 130,000 people to Downing Street, calling on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to act.

In March, a damning report denounced the "hostile environment" towards immigrants by successive governments and said it was grounded in racism.

The report's author said earlier this month there was a "grave risk" of similar failures happening again if the government did not implement a series of its recommendations.

- Face history -

For many, British society has been too slow to change.

In Bristol, southwest England, anti-racist campaigners toppled a controversial statue of 17th-century merchant and slave trader Edward Colston and threw it in the port, after years of inconclusive wrangling about its future.

Statues to leading Black, Asian and minority ethnic figures are few and far between, increasing alienation.

"Some people will always see me like a foreigner, no matter what I say or how I speak," said Moore.

But next year, the first permanent sculpture celebrating the Windrush generation will be unveiled in London, based on archive photographs from the time and people's stories.

Sculptor Thomas J Price, 39, said the bronze, three-metre (10-foot) piece will show "what it means to descend from the Windrush generation and to live in Britain today".

It will stand outside Hackney Town Hall, in the northeast of the capital.

Price, whose grandmother was a nurse and came to Britain from Jamaica, said the sculpture would give people "a sense of visibility" and a "sense of belonging".

The removal of Colston's statue was a good thing, he said, as it "raised awareness" of the issue.

"The UK needs to face its history, the disparities, how black people have been treated. We can't move forward until it's done."


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