Sir Hilary has his say on Windrush issue

“I am a Windrush child!”

UWI Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles acknowledged the above, as he spoke yesterday during a Vice-Chancellor’s Forum focusing on the topic “Empire Windrush: Migration, Exclusion and Compensation”, which was held in the E. Nigel Harris Council Room at The UWI Regional Headquarters, at the Mona Campus in Jamaica.

The event was hosted on UWItv via livestream. According to the UWI, the forum was held in the context of much regional and international discourse about the British Caribbean peoples who went to live in the United Kingdom in the period after World War II, referred to as the Windrush generation. This is a reference to the MV Empire Windrush ship, which arrived in Essex, England on 22 June, 1948, transporting workers from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other islands, as a response to post-war labour shortages to the UK. Despite living and working in the UK for decades, many Windrush immigrants have experienced numerous social challenges and are currently being threatened with deportation.

Given the above context, Sir Hilary noted, “For me this is a conversation that is at once academic, part of my own advocacy in the area of social justice and (there is) also the personal dimension to this.”

“I am a Windrush child. I was a part of that. My parents like thousands of West Indians, moved to Britain in the late fifties. In the early sixties, I remember in the village the officials of London Transport Board coming into my rural community, deep rural Barbados … coming to recruit workers to come to England to make sure that the buses and the trains were going to function efficiently,” he said on reflection.

“I remember that sense of eruption of dozens of young men and women signing documents to go off to England and even as a child, this was very impactful, because you felt the depletion of the village” he added.

“When I went to England I was 13 years old. It was a normal process where the parents would go then children would follow…so we were part of that and I continue to be influenced by a child’s perspective of Windrush. That is still my dominant perspective” he further remarked.

He meanwhile suggested that while the British economy boomed, thanks to the input of West Indian labour, “a deep and severe” issue later surfaced.

“The question of citizenship was always problematical, because when people empowered call for your labour, it is not that they want you as citizens. So what they wanted from the Caribbean was labour input. They did not wish that labour input to evolve to the level of citizenship and thus, three generations of West Indians had to endure the humiliation of being told that they will never be British. And even if they do become British legally, culturally, sociologically, psychologically, they could never be British,” he maintained.
He meanwhile suggested that if there was more economic growth within the region, such issues would be diminished.

“So it comes back to us. The ball is back with us. That we do in fact need to put all hands on deck to get our economies to function at a higher level of development. That is the cure. It is the only cure to all of this,” Sir Hilary said. (RSM)

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