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Windrush compensation scheme ‘is a lot of bull'

WINDRUSH SCANDAL: Auckland Elwaldo Romeo was prevented from leaving the UK for over a decade after the Home Office wrongly deemed him an illegal immigrant

A VICTIM of the Windrush scandal has said the compensation scheme is “a lot of bull” and the government is dealing with those affected by the crisis as if they are “insignificant”.

Auckland Elwaldo Romeo was one of many affected by the Windrush scandal last year. Despite living in the UK since he was four years old, he was wrongly deemed an illegal immigrant after applying to renew his passport. For 12 years he was unable to leave the UK, meaning he could not make a trip to Antigua for his mother’s funeral.

After the government’s mistreatment of many members of the Windrush Generation was exposed in the media, Romeo’s right to remain in the UK was confirmed by the Home Office and he was issued with a new passport. While the outcome was a positive one, the struggle to have the government recognise him as a British citizen has left a lasting impact. And with the launch of the compensation scheme, Romeo is facing another fight for recognition.

“The scheme is a lot of bull, really. It’s nothing. It’s like a small token from the government. The way they’re dealing with it it’s like we are insignificant to the whole system,” Romeo told The Voice.

Adding further insult to injury for Romeo is that despite being one of the high profile cases of the scandal, he has been told that even though he is entitled to receive compensation, his case is not covered by the scheme.

“Looking at the actual compensation, it’s not actually catering for my particular problem whereby I held a passport for 20 years and I was pigeonholed because they saw Antigua and a black face. This has taken them 12 years to actually look in the archives and find my passport; and now they’ve found my passport and I’ve looked at the compensation scheme and it’s only for those people who have monies that have been taken away from them i.e. pensions, hospital fees, loss of homes, loss of employment and things like that,” Romeo said.

While Romeo never lost his job and did not claim benefits so losing recourse to public funds did not apply to him, he lost something that’s much more difficult to value – his identity.

Romeo, who declined an invitation to attend the Windrush reception, describing it as a photo opportunity, is not the only one to express a lack of faith in the Windrush compensation scheme and the government over its continued handling of the scandal.

In a statement, Jacqueline McKenzie, an asylum and immigration lawyer who represents a number of people affected by the Windrush immigration crisis, told The Voice: “The compensation scheme has been launched some 12 months after the scandal hit the news. Twelve months is a very long time for people who have been suffering and destitute to have waited and this must surely act as aggravating feature of any claims. When you read the gist of the scheme you have to wonder what took so long. But we are where we are and hopeful that people will start to get some redress quickly.”

CONCERNED: Lawyer Jacqueline McKenzie

Romeo has been told that he will need to seek help from the Citizens Advice Bureau, a prospect that has left him doubtful of receiving the help he needs to get the compensation he is due. So much so, he is considering taking separate legal action.

He said: “How can Citizens Advice help me when I’m claiming for loss of my identity, which is not in the system for the compensation scheme?”

McKenzie revealed that he is one of a number of people affected that have reservations about this aspect of the process.

“Some people affected by the scandal have already expressed their concern about having to make their applications through the Citizens Advice Bureau because it was that organisation that people turned to when they first encountered problems and feel they were not able to assist,” she said.

She added: “One person, Jocelyn John, has already had an appointment with the Bureau and said she left in tears. The home secretary made an odd statement about people with criminal convictions and their eligibility for full compensation but I suspect he would prefer judges to make decisions relating to this so that he can absolve himself from criticism amongst those who might seek to criticise the payment of money to Caribbean but if people are British and have been wronged, they should be compensated.”

While McKenzie is supporting numerous people with their claims, she said the Home Office’s recent conduct in relation to the compensation scheme has renewed her concerns.

“We'll have to see how the scheme works but our evidence from the failure of the hardship fund has me extremely worried and I have seen first hand, in the past few days, the incompetence of Home Office staff and the lack of respect for those affected by the scandal which has me even more concerned than I had been a few weeks ago.”

MPs David Lammy and Diane Abbott are among those who have called for a review of the Windrush compensation scheme, which they said was another case of the government letting down the Windrush generation.

Abbott, a vocal supporter of the Windrush Generation, said: “This scheme is shoddy, unfair and unjust.”

Martin Forde QC, who gave independent advice to the Home Office on the design of the scheme, has sought to reassure those concerned over the amounts of compensation linked to certain claims.

“It is completely inaccurate to suggest that somebody who was wrongfully deported would only receive £10,000 – unless they were returned to the UK on the same day that they were deported,” The Guardian reported Forde said.

He added: “If someone had been earning £15,000 a year, and they were out of the country for 10 years, they would be eligible for a payment of £150,000 for loss of earnings, £10,000 for the deportation and an uncapped figure for the impact on family life.”

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