LONDON (Reuters) – Winston Robinson journeyed to Britain from the Caribbean as a child of the Windrush generation in the 1960s but found his new life wrecked by a bureaucratic nightmare that left him anxious and despairing.
As Britain tightened its regime against illegal immigrants, the former ambulance driver found himself out of a job after 10 years and possibly even facing deportation.
In an interview with Reuters Television on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the first arrival of the Windrush in 1948, Robinson described his ordeal and appealed to the government of Prime Minister Theresa May to help him get back on track.
Robinson, now in his 60s, sailed on the Windrush from Jamaica to join his parents in Britain with his sister in October 1966 when he was just 9 years old.
For many years all went well and he settled down to life in Britain.
“I came here as a child, a minor, so I just assumed that I was amalgamated into the system, I’m part of the system,” he said. “Whatever I achieved in life was done in this country.
He found work as an ambulance driver. “I’m a man that worked hard and lived a good life,” he said. “I was happy, not rich but I knew where my things was coming from.”
But Robinson, along with hundreds of others, was unwittingly caught up in a crackdown on illegal immigration as the government started to introduce a “hostile environment” policy.
He was asked to produce immigration documents he did not have and told there was no record of his ever having arrived.
“Something horrible was happening to me, and there was nothing I could do about it,” he said.
He lost his job, leading him to being unable to pay rent, and sleeping on the sofas of friends and family members. His appeals to the authorities fell on deaf ears.
“Lack of income of any form is what I experienced,” he said. “It was a loss of everything – and the more I tried to do, it felt like there was this closed door all the time.”
“It’s that sense of helplessness, like someone has put you in prison, and someone telling you how to move or not – that was the scary part.”
The resulting political outcry over the policy eventually led to the resignation of former home secretary Amber Rudd earlier this year.
The government has now apologised to the Windrush generation and launched a review into how the crisis arose and announced that celebrations to mark their contribution will be held annually.
In the past month, the government has issued Robinson with permanent residence rights and entitlement to unemployment benefit.
But he feels that these actions barely scratch the surface of what is needed to make up for his loss.
What he really wants is to be able to return to his old job, and win compensation for the years in which he was unable to work to secure his own financial future.
“I’m not an anxious person,” he said, speaking of his ordeal. “To take that all away from me, and now I am jumpy, I’m anxious …”
“I just think they’ve got to do something. They’ve got to do something, whatever it is, I just think they’ve got to help me back on my feet.”
Editing by Stephen Addison