WHILE THE Windrush scandal is largely out of the headlines, its effects continue to impact the British residents, and those overseas, who came to the UK from the Caribbean before and after 1973.
In a bid to help those caught up in the crisis receive the financial compensation that they are owed, numerous community groups, individuals and organisations around the country have been working to give advice and demystify the compensation claiming process.
One such organisation is the Black Cultural Archives (BCA) based in Windrush Square, Brixton.
“Access to the compensation scheme is the issue”Patrick Vernon, campaigner
Every Wednesday and Saturday until the end of February, the BCA will be holding free legal surgeries for those who require assistance with their claims.
The surgeries, made possible thanks to funding from The Windrush Justice Fund, launched by Patrick Vernon, and the Funding Network could help dozens of people get the compensation they are entitled to.
At a public meeting held on Saturday, January 18, the chair of the BCA, Dawn Hill said: “In 2017 when the Windrush scandal broke, I decided we’d do something.”
Immigration lawyer Jacqueline McKenzie, who was on the panel at the public meeting, said: “What did not take the government by surprise, which is why I think there may well have been a bit of deliberate action here and certainly deliberate maleficence in the way the community has been treated two years into the scandal, is that they looked at who are the victims, they looked at what does this community have to respond to this and they saw very little. There are no community leaders, there are no community organisations – major ones.”
Alongside the BCA and Vernon – who said “access to the compensation scheme is the issue” as well as the Home Office’s involvement – McKenzie is seeking to change that.
Her firm, McKenzie, Beute and Pope, which specialises in immigration issues, is leading the appointments at the BCA surgery.
“We’ve got to become active citizens and make sure because it might not affect me or you but it is affecting our brother and sisters that are voices are heard and the victims of the Windrush get some justice because it’s not happening at the moment,” McKenzie said.
Lawyer Martin Forde, the independent adviser to the Home Office on the Windrush Compensation Scheme, echoed McKenzie’s calls for unity. “This is beyond politics. I don’t think either of the major parties have actually done all they could have done for our community.”
Last year, The Voice spoke to Elwaldo Romeo, one of the many British residents who was caught up in the scandal.
“Steer clear of the sharks circling around this scheme”Martin Forde, QC, independent adviser on the design of the Windrush Compensation Scheme
Despite having lived in the UK since he was four years old, Elwaldo was deemed an illegal immigrant by the Home Office for more than a decade after he applied to renew his British passport.
He attended the BCA event with his lawyer Tolulola Agbelusi who helped him complete his claim for compensation.
She spoke to The Voice about some of the difficulties those filling in the form can encounter.
“Because I’m a lawyer and it’s what I do every day I’m aware of what is expected under each section, of what can bolster a case. I think for a lay person doing that, you just tell your story, you leave out a lot of details because we instinctively tell ourselves certain things aren’t important,” Agbelusi said.
“There are things that are clear cut in the form, it’s not like the whole form is difficult. ‘Were you deported?’ It’s a yes or no thing…where it’s the impact of life, that is something that needs real work and how do you get enough of their information and frame it properly.”
While victims have been encouraged to seek legal advice, Forde urged claimants to avoid paying extortionate fees for help.
“I’d advise you to steer clear of the sharks circling around this scheme, some charging up to 30 per cent to fill in forms,” he said.
Agbelusi said: “I don’t understand why the government hasn’t given proper allowance for people to be able to get lawyers to assist them in making the claims because even as Martin Forde himself is saying, these are claims and you get lawyers to do claims for you.”
To book your free appointment, visit eventbrite. Alternatively you can call the BCA direct on 020 3757 8500 or drop in to book a slot.
The surgeries run every Wednesday between 5pm and 8pm and every Saturday between 10am and 12pm until February 29.