The Government have apologised after admitting “Windrush” generation UK residents have potentially been deported to the Caribbean “in error”.
Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes revealed she was “very sorry” amid an escalating row over problems faced by those who came to Britain from the Commonwealth after the Second World War.
After initially rejecting their request for a meeting, a Downing Street U-turn will now see the Prime Minister meet with Caribbean leaders in a bid to ease the controversy.
Dubbed the Windrush generation after the cruise ship that brought one of the first large groups of West Indians to Britain, anyone who entered the UK before 1973 is legally entitled to live in the country.
But, despite having lived in the country for the majority of their lives, the group of British residents have begun to experience issues as a result of tightened UK immigration requirements.
It has seen some Windrush generation residents, who might never have applied for UK passports, left without the documentation now required by officials.
Their problems include difficulties when finding work, getting NHS care, accessing benefits, or trying to secure housing.
Ms Nokes even appeared to confirm reports some Windrush generation residents have been wrongly removed from the country.
She told Channel 4 News: “Potentially they have been and I’m very conscious that it’s very much in error, and that’s an error that I want to put right.”
The Immigration Minister added: “These are people who we welcomed here way back in the ’50s and ’60s and it’s really important to me that we correct any error.
“That we send a message of reassurance to people who are here, we want to get this right for them.”
Answering questions in the House of Commons later, Home Secretary Amber Rudd vowed to “find out if there are any such people who have been removed”.
Labour have pointed to changes to UK immigration law introduced while the Prime Minister herself was in charge of the Home Office.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott demanded an apology from Theresa May over the problems faced by Windrush generation residents.
“It is an absolute scandal that the Home Office doesn’t even know how many people they have wrongly deported,” she said.
“Theresa May must apologise for this mess which has taken place as a direct consequence of the hostile environment she created.
“As Home Secretary, she removed the rules protecting Commonwealth citizens and as Prime Minister she has completely ignored the issue.
“The Windrush generation must have their rights as British citizens confirmed, any who have been deported must be invited back to the UK immediately and those who oversaw their deportations must be held to account.”
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Ed Davey accused the Home Office of “seriously failing” the Windrush generation.
It is estimated as many as 50,000 Windrush generation residents are facing problems, with the row flaring up as Caribbean leaders arrived in London for the start of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) this week.
Downing Street reversed a decision for Theresa May not to meet Caribbean leaders over the problems faced by the Windrush generation.
The Home Office earlier confirmed the meeting was requested but the subject of the proposed meeting was not made clear.
Barbados high commissioner to the UK, Guy Hewitt, claimed he had initially been told the Prime Minister’s schedule was “full” this week.
Number 10 said the Prime Minister only became aware of the request on Monday morning and hoped to meet as many Caribbean leaders as possible this week.
Mrs May’s official spokesman said: “She deeply values the contribution made by these and all Commonwealth citizens who have made a life in the UK, and is making sure the Home Office is offering the correct solution for individual situations.
“She is aware that many people are unlikely to have documents that are over 40 years old and she is clear that no-one with the right to be here will be made to leave.”
The Downing Street U-turn came after 140 MPs from across the parties wrote to the Prime Minister calling for an “immediate and effective” response to the concerns of Windrush generation residents.