UK: Windrush activists demand change in compensation program

LONDON (AP) — People whose lives were torn apart when the government improperly questioned their right to be in the U.K. are demanding that a program designed to compensate them be taken out of the hands of the agency that violated their rights.

About a dozen activists spoke to journalists outside the Home Office ahead of a planned march Wednesday, saying the British government should create a new independent body to administer the program, which has been criticized for moving too slowly to process claims from the mostly Black victims of the scandal.

Many legal residents who came to Britain from the Caribbean lost their homes, jobs and right to medical care when they were targeted by Home Office efforts to crack down on illegal immigration. The agency is now responsible for the program set up to compensate the Windrush generation, named after the ship that carried the first post-war migrants from the West Indies.

Anthony Brown, an attorney who moved to Britain from Jamaica in the 1960s, also wants the law changed to guarantee the citizenship rights of the Windrush generation — and their children.

“We want the Windrush scheme to be declared not fit for purpose, and we want a new scheme to be put in place that is based on registration not naturalization because the naturalization process is irrational to people who are already British,’’ Brown said.

The Home Office acknowledges that the compensation program got off to a slow start but says it was overhauled in December to provide more money more quickly.

The program has made compensation offers totaling 30 million pounds ($41.7 million), of which 20.4 million pounds has been paid to victims, the Home Office said. That’s up from less than 3 million pounds paid out before the December changes.

The opposition Labour Party has also called for the government to give control of the compensation program to a new independent body.

“This is to help restore faith in the process and get compensation quickly to people who have been appallingly treated,” Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s spokesman on domestic issues, said in a letter released to the media earlier this week.