Windrush grandfather wrongly branded an illegal immigrant slams his ‘racist’ treatment – saying ‘it was the colour of my skin… it wouldn’t happen if I’d come from Canada not Jamaica’
- Anthony Bryan arrived in UK as child but locked up twice in immigration centre
- Trouble began when he applied for passport to visit his ailing mother in Jamaica
- Lost his job after receiving a letter saying he had no right to remain in the UK
- Had difficulty getting documents proving he had been in the UK since 1960s
Anthony Bryan arriving at Parliament to give evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights
The Home Office was today accused of racism in its treatment of Windrush citizens by a grandfather who was wrongly detained as an illegal immigrant.
Anthony Bryan, who feared he would be deported to Jamaica despite living in the UK since arriving as a child in 1965, told a Parliamentary committee that his case would have been handled differently had he been white.
In stark testimony to MPs and Peers, the 60-year-old and Paulette Wilson, 61, told of the ‘nightmare’ of being embroiled in the scandal.
Ms Wilson, a grandmother who came from Jamaica in 1968, was also mistakenly locked up in an immigration centre and threatened with being booted out of Britain.
Both gave moving accounts of their appalling treatment at the hands of the authorities to the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
During the emotional session, Mr Bryan was questioned whether he thought his treatment would have been different if he had been from Canada, New Zealand or Australia.
In response, Bryan said: ‘I hate to say it, but I don’t think I’d have this problem [if] I had come from Canada instead of coming from Jamaica.’ His wife added: ‘[It was] because of the colour of your skin.’
Mr Bryan told the Joint Committee on Human Rights, his treatment would have been different if he was white
Mr Bryan’s wife Janet McKay-Williams agreed her husband’s treatment was ‘because of the colour of your skin’
Asked if he thought race was a ‘big’ factor in what happened, he said: ‘In the Home Office? Yes.’ He said: ‘I hate to say it, but I don’t think I would have had this problem..’
His wife Janet McKay-Williams, who worked tirelessly to secure his release from detention and the threat of deportation, said it was ‘because of the colour of your skin’.
Mr Bryan, from north London, was held in a detention centre twice, for a total of almost five weeks in 2017. He said he was left ‘broken’ by his treatment.
His trouble began when he applied for a passport so he could visit his ailing mother in Jamaica. He then lost his job after receiving a letter informing him he had no right to remain in the UK.
He said he explained to immigration officials, who came to detain him at his home that he had lived in Britain for most of his life, adding: ‘But to them I was lying… everything I was telling them, I had to prove that’.
Mr Bryan and Janet McKay-Williams, who worked tirelessly to secure his release from detention and the threat of deportation
His family were told by enforcement staff working for private firm Capita that once in Jamaica he would be able to speak to his children and grandchildren ‘by Skype’.
Mr Bryan said he phoning his family from the detention centre to tell them: ‘It looks like you’re going to see me in Jamaica.’
He told the committee: ‘They had tickets for me – I thought I was going, to be honest. I was resigned because I couldn’t fight any more. I just gave up.
‘Six weeks before, I had buried my son, and all of a sudden I was in this lock-up even though I hadn’t done anything. I was upset.’ He said it was ‘torture’ being held in a detention centre at Oxford Airport.
‘You can see the planes landing and taking off,’ he said. ‘That was depressing because you’re thinking “Is that the plane I’m going on”.’
Mr Bryan was released from the immigration centre in November last year after a last-minute intervention from a lawyer.
Ms Wilson, from Wolverhampton, who gave evidence alongside her daughter, Natalie Barnes, had been looked after by her grandparents after arriving in Britain aged 10.
She received a letter from the Home Office in 2015 and was told to report each month to immigration officials. In October last year she was detained and taken to the Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire, where she spent a week before being released.
Mr Bryan’s problems began when he applied for a passport to visit his sick mother in Jamaica
Ms Wilson, who had worked for 37 years, said: ‘The first thing I got was a letter saying I was an illegal immigrant. They were saying I don’t belong here – I’ve got six months to get out.’
Referring to the decision to detain her, she told the committee: ‘Where could I have run to? My family is here in England. I wouldn’t have run away.
‘I was thinking they were going to pick me up here and put me on the plane and probably when I get there people’s going to kill me. I was thinking all sorts of things in my head.’
Mr Bryan and Ms Wilson said it was difficult to get hold of documents that proved they had been in the UK since the 1960s, even though they told officials they had evidence, including National Insurance numbers, which would indicate their long-term residence.
Ms Barnes said ‘documents were very hard to come by, They kept telling us to go here, there and everywhere… it was just very hard to get that evidence’.
Committee chairwoman Harriet Harman said: ‘This really should not have happened. It has been very heartrending hearing what you have experienced and how frightening and shocking that must have been for you.’
Ministers have faced a furious backlash over the treatment of those who came from the Commonwealth between 1948 and 1973 to help rebuild postwar Britain.
Every Windrush migrant was given an automatic right to stay, but many never applied for passports or were formally naturalised.
Changes to immigration rules in 2014, dubbed the ‘hostile environment’ strategy, have meant some Windrush migrants have not been able to rent properties, work, open bank accounts, access NHS treatment or hold driving licences. Some were detained and threatened with deportation.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid admitted this week that 63 members of the Windrush generation could have been wrongfully removed or deported from the UK since 2002.
But Mr Javid, who became home secretary last month after Amber Rudd resigned over the scandal, told MPs he did not have information on how many Windrush immigrants had been detained.
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