Windrush and Wales

Uzo Iwobi reflects on the contribution the Windrush generation has made to Wales

With a promise of a new life in the ‘Motherland’ and suitcases packed, 492 West Indian passengers left Jamaica and arrived into Tilbury Docks, London on the SS Empire Windrush. Their hearts were full of hopes and dreams, anticipating a country of opportunity and ambition. Some reports say there were over a thousand passengers, others mention many stowaways. However, it must be noted that at this time on 22nd   June 1948, immigration laws were not as they are today.


In fact, the passengers of the Empire Windrush had been enticed, encouraged and coaxed into moving to the UK to assist in bridging the labour gap in a post-war drive to replenish the workers whose lives had sadly been lost. Britain had a severe shortage of people and these passengers were helping the government and would be the ones to improve the UK economy again. They were granted British Citizenship as part of the newly passed British Nationality Act 1948.


Many only planned to stay a few years, and some returned back to the sunshine and away from the disappointing grey skies and wet weather. The UK did not meet their high expectations, not only because of a housing shortage and recovery from the war, but because of the severe torrent of racism and discrimination that the Windrush passengers faced. Despite these hardships, many did stay and ploughed on through with resilience and determination and are still here today.


We are now almost 70 years on and the Windrush generation have been subject to the UK  Government’s ‘hostile environment’ which was designed to target illegal immigrants. Many of the Windrush generation have become wrongfully entangled in this debacle, some sadly have been detained and treated as criminals and others have been wrongfully deported.


British Politician David Lammy MP delivered what has been lauded one of the most impactful speeches of our time on the Windrush issue at a Parliamentary session. He blamed Prime Minister Theresa May’s policies for this horrific treatment.


“When my parents and their generation arrived in this country under the Nationality Act of 1948, they arrived here as British Citizens. It is inhumane and cruel for so many of that Windrush generation to have suffered for so long in this condition…This is a day of national shame”.


Following on from the backlash against Prime Minister Theresa May and Amber Rudd’s resignation, the UK Government appointed a new Home Secretary Sajid Javid.


However, this change of personnel did nothing to diminish the threat of deportation still encrypted onto the minds of those who are potentially at risk of being on the receiving end of the ‘hostile treatment’.


We are working with Welsh Government, Unison Cymru and other third sector groups across Wales to create positivity. At the Senedd on 22nd June we held a celebration to mark the contribution of the Windrush generation. For without them,  Britain truly would have suffered in its post-war era of labour shortages. Our economy would have taken a nosedive and would have been unable to recover without these skilled workers.


Let us also be thankful to the first wave of immigrants for creating the first large scale multicultural society, which allowed Britain – and indeed Wales – to become a vibrantly diverse place to live. These arrivals enabled Welsh society to become culturally inclusive, with food, music, fashion and art paving the way for community cohesion and inclusion.


It is important that the people of Wales continue to show ethnic minority communities that Britain and Wales are willing to respect diversity and people from diverse ethnic backgrounds who serve and invest in Wales. Through the Equality Act of 2010 and the Future Generations Act, the peoples of Wales must ensure that they promote good race relations between people and continue to send out messages that Wales is a warm and welcoming nation.


The media must be careful when reporting matters that could potentially lead to acts of hatred towards migrants. They must be balanced in also reporting initiatives that celebrate diversity and the contributions of migrants to Wales, and not only magnify negative issues.


Here in Wales, communities must make a concerted effort to ensure that we do not support ‘hostile treatment’ and that we truly embrace our diverse communities.


Change must start from leaders in Welsh Government, and include frontline staff, public, private and third sector bodies as well as community members themselves.


As an African proverb says:


“If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together”


In order for Wales as a nation to go far, it must embrace all its citizens and honour and applaud those unsung citizens who arrived in Wales on the SS Empire Windrush ship.


All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

Uzo Iwobi is CEO of Race Council Cymru

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