Our tribute to Paulette Wilson
Date posted: 31 July 2020
We were saddened to hear of the death of Paulette Wilson who passed away last week aged 64.
Paulette was a normal person with a normal life. One day she was unlawfully targeted for deportation, detained at Yarl’s Wood detention centre, treated as a criminal, made destitute, blindsided. Her pleas for rationality and fair treatment were dismissed and ignored. This treatment would have caused many people to shrivel up in fear, self-doubt and ultimately shame. Paulette stood up and told her appalling story in the press and she opened the eyes of the reasonable public.
Paulette came to the UK from Jamaica when she was 10 years old. She grew up in Britain, worked as a chef, had 34 years of National Insurance payments, and had a British child and a British grandchild. In 2015 she was detained and it was alleged that she had no right to reside in the UK.
Hackney North MP Diane Abbott’s tribute to Paulette draws attention to the hostile environment that was created as a specific government policy and in which Paulette got caught up. Paulette’s experience of injustice and lack of accountability, causing an indelible breach of her protected human rights and her dignity, was and is not unique.
Until this scandal was news, it simply was not news. Before Windrush was synonymous with Windrush scandal, cases were being fought by immigration lawyers on individual facts trying to prove that a client did have the right to live here but no longer had their passport or the vital letter from the Home Office issued years before. Clients were forced to scrape together incongruent bits of evidence; a 20 year old police report on a house fire which omitted specific mention of a lost passport, a 1960s primary school in Ealing which closed down without retaining pupil records, old photos taken in London in the 1970’s which the Home Office would often say proved nothing.
Often clients who we believed were in fact British or had the right of abode were advised pragmatically to protect their position and apply for Leave to Remain, only possible if they could afford the high Home Office fees.
And while the ‘Windrush Generation’ is now being slowly recognised and reprieved the hostile environment is still the reality for many migrants despite being re-branded as a ‘compliant environment’.
We are concerned that the next Windrush scandal may arise when EU citizens who have lived here many years struggle to provide the evidence that they need to be granted settled status. It is problematic when rights to be here become conditional on administration. We fear meeting more reasonable, confused people in detention centres and explaining to them the realities of the hostile environment.
We believe the best tribute to Paulette would be a humane immigration system and the end of policies designed to create a hostile environment. A system that respects people as people and does not operate with a culture of disbelief. Disregard for humanity should never be a part of our law.
We remember and honour Paulette Wilson.