LONDON (AP) — Britain’s new interior minister vowed Monday to sort out an immigration scandal shaking the government, saying that as the child of immigrants he was angered by the mistreatment of long-term residents from the Caribbean.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he would do “whatever it takes” to resolve the status of all those who have become innocent casualties of the Conservative government’s tough immigration policies.
“We will do right by the Windrush generation,” Javid told lawmakers in the House of Commons:
Prime Minister Theresa May appointed Javid to the key job Monday, hours after predecessor Amber Rudd resigned over her role in what has become known as the Windrush scandal.
The furor began when the Guardian newspaper reported that some people from the Caribbean who have lived in Britain for decades had been refused medical care or threatened with deportation because they couldn’t produce paperwork proving their right to reside in the country.
Those affected are known as the “Windrush generation” after the ship Empire Windrush, which in 1948 brought hundreds of Caribbean immigrants to a Britain seeking nurses, railway workers and others to help it rebuild after the devastation of World War II.
They and many subsequent Commonwealth immigrants had an automatic right to settle in the U.K. But some have now been denied housing, jobs or medical treatment because of requirements that employers and doctors check people’s immigration status. Others have been told by the government that they are in Britain illegally and must leave.
Outrage at their treatment has piled pressure on May, who was home secretary between 2010 and 2016 and introduced tough immigration policies intended to make Britain a “hostile environment” for unauthorized migrants.
“It is the prime minister who has created the fundamental reasons for the Windrush scandal,” said Joanna Cherry, home affairs spokeswoman for the opposition Scottish National Party.
Javid, the son of Pakistani immigrants, is the first politician from an ethnic minority to hold one of the four top jobs in Britain’s government — prime minister, finance minister, foreign secretary and home secretary.
“Like the Caribbean Windrush generation, my parents came to this country from the Commonwealth in the 1960s,” Javid said. “They too came to help rebuild this country and offer all that they had.”
Javid said that when he saw the plight of the Windrush migrants, “I thought that it could be my mum, my brother, my uncle or even me.”
Immigration is a divisive issue in Britain, and reducing the number of newcomers was a major factor for many voters who in 2016 backed leaving the European Union. The Conservative government has an oft-stated but long-unmet goal of reducing net immigration below 100,000 people a year, less than half the current level.
The treatment of the Windrush generation has sparked widespread outrage across the political spectrum in Britain.
Rudd and May both apologized repeatedly, saying that all pre-1973 Commonwealth immigrants who don’t already have British citizenship will get it and those affected will get compensation.
But Rudd’s position worsened after she told lawmakers last week that the government didn’t have targets for deporting people — only for a 2017 memo to emerge that mentioned specific targets for “enforced removals.”
Rudd said she didn’t see the memo, but The Guardian later published a leaked letter she wrote to the prime minister discussing an aim of increasing removals by 10 percent.
In a resignation letter to the prime minister, Rudd said she had “inadvertently” misled lawmakers. May said she accepted that Rudd had spoken “in good faith” and was sorry to see her resign.
The Windrush scandal is also causing anxiety for the 3 million European Union citizens living in Britain who are concerned about their immigration status after the country leaves the EU next March. The British government says they will be allowed to stay.
May’s office said Javid’s former job, communities secretary, would be filled by James Brokenshire, a former secretary of state for Northern Ireland.