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Paulette Wilson, a prominent Windrush campaigner who was wrongly detained and threatened with deportation by the Home Office, has died unexpectedly at the age of 64, a month after delivering a petition to Downing Street calling on the government to deliver justice to those affected by the scandal.
Wilson’s daughter, Natalie Barnes, said she had found her mother on Thursday morning; she appeared to have died in her sleep. “My mum was a fighter and she was ready to fight for anyone. She was an inspiration to many people. She was my heart and my soul and I loved her to pieces,” Barnes said.
Wilson moved to Britain from Jamaica aged about 10 in 1968, to join her grandparents. She went to primary and secondary school in Britain, and worked as a chef for most of her life, for a while in the House of Commons restaurant. She had travelled to the UK legally but in 2016 she received a letter informing her that she was an immigration offender, and needed to take immediate steps to return to Jamaica, a country she had not visited in half a century.
She was arrested twice, and spent time in Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre, before being transferred to another centre in Heathrow in 2017, ahead of a flight to Kingston. It was only a last-minute intervention by her MP, Emma Reynolds, and the Refugee and Migrant Centre in Wolverhampton, that prevented her deportation.
Wilson’s decision to speak to the Guardian in 2017 about her wrongful arrest and detention encouraged dozens of other people to come forward and describe how they also had found themselves wrongly classified as immigration offenders.
About 164 were mistakenly detained or removed from the UK. When the scandal broke in April 2018 it provoked the resignation of the then home secretary, Amber Rudd, and the government was forced to apologise.
Wilson later said she had been put through “the worst heartache anyone could go through”.
She and her daughter dedicated much of the past two-and-a-half years to raising awareness of the difficulties experienced by thousands of people who had arrived in the UK legally in the 50s and 60s, before wrongly being categorised as immigration offenders.
When she visited Downing Street last month to deliver a petition calling for compensation to be speeded up, she said she was disappointed that she was still having to campaign for justice. She had hoped two years ago that there would be a swifter resolution of everyone’s difficulties and faster payment of compensation to all victims. “The word ‘sorry’ can roll off anyone’s tongue easily, but we don’t want more apologies,” she said.
Paulette is survived by her daughter and her granddaughter. “She was widely loved and respected; her laugh was infectious and she loved to see people smile; she will be missed by us all,” Barnes said.
The Windrush campaigner Patrick Vernon said he was in “deep shock”.
“She was campaigner like many others fighting for justice. There is growing evidence that the impact of the Windrush scandal and hostile environment is having a major impact on mental health and well-being of the survivors. We now need to campaign to end the hostile environment and for the compensation to managed independently from the Home Office,” he said.
Source : The Guardian, 23 July 2020