The government is still not certain whether any Windrush-era citizens in the UK have been wrongly deported, a senior minister has said, reiterating that their treatment “had gone badly wrong”.
David Lidington, the Cabinet Office minister, said staff from the Home Office were working to check whether any affected people, who predominantly arrived in the UK as children from the Caribbean, had been removed.
“I talked to the home secretary about this last night, and the position is that we have no information, we do not know of any cases where somebody who has been deported is in this category,” Lidington told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday.
“The home secretary, to double check this, has asked her officials to work through the records methodically, just to check whether anything has gone appallingly wrong in that way, and then we can put it right.”
The shadow home secretary, Diana Abbott, later tweeted: “It’s unacceptable for ministers to claim they don’t know how many Windrush citizens have been deported. A simple matter of checking Home Office records, surely?”
Amber Rudd delivered an unprecedented apology in the Commons on Monday for the “appalling” actions of her department.
The home secretary announced the creation of a new Home Office team, staffed by 20 officials, dedicated to ensuring that Commonwealth-born long-term UK residents would no longer find themselves classified as being in the UK illegally. She also promised that cases would be resolved within two weeks and application fees would be waived.
Theresa May will meet a group of Caribbean leaders on Tuesday at the Commonwealth heads of government (Chogm) event in London, after Downing Street initially said she would not do so.
Lidington said the prime minister had only become aware of the request for the meeting on Monday, despite widespread media coverage of the decision at the weekend.
“She’s meeting them today, and the home secretary is meeting a number of Caribbean high commissioners this week,” Lidington said. “As soon as this issue was brought personally to the attention of the prime minister yesterday, she countermanded the decision of people in her office and agreed to the meeting.”
Lidington denied that the “hostile environment” approach to immigration enforcement put in place by May when she was home secretary had helped trigger the problem, insisting it was the result of decisions made over decades.
“It was clearly right that the home secretary recognised that things had gone badly wrong in respect of this group of people and made a full formal apology to parliament and the public about this yesterday,” he said.
Asked who was ultimately responsible, he replied: “In apologising and setting out the steps to put it right, the home secretary took that responsibility yesterday.”
Rudd told MPs: “Frankly, how they have been treated has been wrong – has been appalling – and I am sorry. That is why I am setting up a new area in my department to ensure that we have a completely new approach to how their situation is regularised.”
She also made a significant criticism of her department: “I am concerned that the Home Office has become too concerned with policy and strategy and sometimes loses sight of the individual. This is about individuals, and we have heard the individual stories, some of which have been terrible to hear.”
The Guardian has been documenting a growing scandal over the past five monthsaffecting an unknown number of people who arrived in the UK from the Caribbean as children, often on parents’ or siblings’ passports, but were never formally naturalised or hadn’t applied for a British passport. The British government had invited people from the region to work in the UK after the second world war.
Recently tightened immigration rules mean individuals are increasingly required to show documents proving their right to live in the UK before they can take up work, rent properties, access healthcare, or claim benefits. This has resulted in many people losing their jobs, becoming homeless or being refused urgent healthcare. Some have been sent to immigration removal centres or threatened with deportation.
The immigration minister Caroline Nokes had suggested before Rudd’s apology that people appeared to have been wrongly deported for not having the right documents.
Rudd said she was unable to confirm if this was the case, and had asked Caribbean diplomats if they were aware of mistaken deportations.