Black Cultural Archives runs legal surgeries following Windrush scandal - Museums Association

Black Cultural Archives runs legal surgeries following Windrush scandal

Director describes fiasco as an “important moment in British history”
Black Cultural Archives (BCA) in Brixton, south London, is running legal surgeries over the next four to five weeks for people affected by the Windrush deportation scandal.

The cultural institution was prompted to hold a public meeting last Saturday to discuss the fiasco, in which the Home Office is accused of wrongfully detaining, deporting or denying NHS care to members of the Windrush generation and their descendants who are unable to prove they are legally in the UK.

At the meeting, several legal professionals held pro bono surgeries for people who had concerns about their own citizenship status or that of a relative. Due to the scale of concern about the issue, BCA is to hold more surgeries over the next few weeks. Demand is so high that the first two weeks of clinics have already been booked out, according to the institution's director Paul Reid.

“We are very central within our community,” Reid told Museums Journal. “We are responsible for collecting, conserving, exhibiting – all of those slogans – but we also have to be relevant. It’s at times like this that we find ourselves being consistent with our original self-help position.”

Explaining why the BCA had chosen to get involved, Reid said: “We are in a symbiotic place that moves between culture and activism – we were born out of activism.”

Reid expressed shock at the Home Office’s destruction of Windrush landing cards in 2010, questioning why these had not been offered to the BCA to preserve. “That’s when my eyebrows truly went up – if you had no value or space for them why not deposit them with us?”

Reid said the institution was also planning to undertake contemporary collecting to capture the stories of those affected by the scandal, describing it as an “important moment in British history”.

“If people have had letters from the Home Office, we’re asking them to put those aside until they don’t need them. Then we’ll pull it all together.”

He said the saga highlighted a systemic problem with racism and unresolved post-colonial issues in the UK, saying it was a case of “chickens coming home to roost” after years of legislation that had gradually chipped away at the rights of the Windrush immigrants.

“These issues only come into focus at the point it’s all gone terribly wrong,” he said.

The Windrush generation refers to the cohort of people, mainly from the Caribbean, who legally immigrated to the UK between 1948, when they were invited to help the country rebuild after the war, to 1973, when the Immigration Act came into force. Reid said the scandal had not just affected those people, and that many others were also in a "precarious" position, despite being in the UK legally.

The deportation fiasco, seen by some as a predictable outcome of the Home Office’s “hostile environment” policy towards immigrants, resulted in the resignation of home secretary Amber Rudd last weekend.

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