Anthony Bryan and Paulette Wilson are among an unknown number of children of the so-called Windrush generation, named after a ship that sailed from the Caribbean to Britain in 1948, who were wrongly caught up in a crackdown on illegal immigrants.
The resulting political scandal forced interior minister, Amber Rudd, to resign last month and has raised questions about the record of Prime Minister Theresa May, who as interior minister for six years before Rudd presided over a toughening of immigration policies.
Now in their 60s, Bryan and Wilson, who are unrelated, arrived in Britain in the 1960s as primary school-aged children and have lived in the country ever since. Both appeared on Wednesday in front of parliament’s human rights committee, which is investigating the Windrush debacle.
Although legally entitled to remain indefinitely, both were subjected to a bureaucratic nightmare in which they were asked to provide ever more detailed records of their lives stretching back decades, and told that if they failed to prove their legal status they would be deported.
“I was fighting, fighting, fighting, fighting, but I wasn’t getting nowhere. Immigration wasn’t believing me,” Bryan said, describing the months leading up to his detention, during which he lost his job after being told his boss could be fined for employing an illegal immigrant.
Bryan’s difficulties culminated in five weeks in detention centres for illegal immigrants.
Wilson described similar experiences, and she too ended up in detention for a week. She was then taken to Heathrow Airport and thought she was about to be put on a plane to Jamaica, where she had not set foot since leaving aged 10.
“I didn’t know anybody over there, so it was like, are they sending me to die? My mind was up and down 24/7 going this way, going that way,” she said.
After interventions from non-governmental groups, lawyers, lawmakers and media coverage, both have since been told that they are in fact legally entitled to remain in Britain indefinitely.
The Conservative government has tried to portray the Windrush fiasco as an administrative problem in which people got wrongly caught up in immigration controls that were not aimed at them.
But the opposition Labour party and other critics have argued that the affair was a consequence of an anti-immigrant climate which they say dates back to May’s six years as interior minister between 2010 and 2016.
Editing by Stephen Addison