(TheTimes.Com) – Thousands of landing card slips recording the arrival of migrants, including those of the Windrush generation, were destroyed eight years ago, a former Home Office employee has claimed.
The source said the records were a resource for immigration officials seeking information about when a person arrived in the UK, particularly in cases where a migrant was attempting to resolve problems with their immigration status.
They said the records were destroyed by the department in 2010, despite warnings that they were important for establishing whether someone could claim citizenship.
It came as Theresa May apologised to Caribbean leaders for the Windrush debacle. Attempting to defuse the controversy, the Prime Minister promised to give “certainty” to thousands of people who arrived in the UK with their parents from the Caribbean after the Second World War.
Meeting leaders, including Jamaica prime minister Andrew Holness, at Number 10, Mrs May said: “I want to dispel any impression that my government is in some sense clamping down on Commonwealth citizens, particularly those from the Caribbean.
“I take this issue very seriously. The home secretary apologised in the House of Commons yesterday for any anxiety caused. And I want to apologise to you today. Because we are genuinely sorry for any anxiety that has been caused.”
Amber Rudd, the home secretary, was forced to apologise last night for the “appalling” treatment of the Windrush generation.
Even before the reports of the destruction of documents, the Home Office was heavily criticised for its handling of the issue, which has led to elderly residents who arrived in Britain more than 50 years ago from the West Indies being told that they are here illegally.
The department did not keep a record of Commonwealth citizens granted leave to remain or issue any paperwork confirming their rights under the 1971 Immigration Act. The legislation gave all Commonwealth citizens already living in the UK indefinite leave to remain but the Home Office record-keeping means it is difficult for the individuals now to prove that they are in Britain legally.
Changes to immigration law in 2012, which require people to have documentation to work, rent a property or access benefits, including healthcare, has left many of those affected fearful about their status.
The Windrush controversy threatened to overshadow the Commonwealth heads of government conference, which started yesterday, and Ms Rudd’s strongly-worded statement to the Commons was intended to see that off.
“Frankly, some of the way they have been treated has been wrong, has been appalling, and I am sorry,” Ms Rudd told the Commons. “I am very sorry for any confusion and anxiety felt.”
In a rebuke to her officials, she told MPs: “I am concerned that the Home Office has become too concerned with policy and strategy, and sometimes loses sight of the individual.
“This is about individuals, and we have seen the individual stories, and they have been, some of them, terrible to hear, and that is why I have acted.”
She announced emergency measures including a 20-strong taskforce to deal with cases, the waiving of the £229 fee for a document proving the right to live in the UK and a presumption that all those who arrived between 1948 and 1971 would be allowed to stay. Only those found to have committed serious criminal offences are likely to be refused the right to reside.
A Whitehall source said that officials had believed the problem to be relatively small in scale. “Home Office officials thought that there were only around seven problem cases, and could not find evidence of any deportations. That’s why it did not seem like a big thing to them,” the source said.
As Mrs May launched her damage limitation exercise today, ministers were still scrambling to work out whether any of the Windrush generations had been deported to the country of their birth.