Paulette Wilson (1956 – 23 July 2020) was a British immigrant rights activist who fought her own deportation to Jamaica and brought media attention to the human rights violations of the Windrush Scandal.
Wilson was born in the British Colony of Jamaica in 1956, (anyone born at the time were classed as British Citizens) and was sent by her mother to Britain when she was ten years old. This was a common thing for parents to leave their children “back home” whilst they set up a new home in England or to go live with family here for a better life.
During her life in England Wilson completed her primary and secondary school education and worked as cook, at one time in the House of Commons staff restaurant.
In 2015, Wilson received notification from the government that she was an illegal immigrant and was required to leave the UK. Her housing and health care benefits were stopped; she became homeless and was denied the right to seek work even though she had been working and paying her taxes for over 34 years.
By 2017, Wilson was facing deportation. She had not returned to Jamaica for 50 years, but was arrested twice detained in Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre and then sent to the deportation centre at Heathrow Airport in October 2017. The Refugee and Migrant Centre persuaded her MP, to stop the deportation at the last minute to allow Wilson more time to appeal to the Home Office.
The British Nationality Act 1948 gave citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies status and the right of settlement in the UK to everyone who was at that time a British subject by virtue of having been born in a British Citizen.
Post World War 2 Britain was faced with a labour shortage and the act and encouragement from British government campaigns in Caribbean countries led to a wave of Caribbean people settling in the U.K. Between 1948 and 1970, nearly half a million people moved from the Caribbean to Britain.
Those that travelled here were later referred to as “the Windrush Generation”. They were skilled working age adults and many children travelled from the Caribbean to join parents or grandparents in the UK or travelled with their parents without their own passports.
Since they had a legal right to come to the UK, they neither needed nor were given any documents upon entry to the UK, nor following changes in immigration laws in the early 1970s. Many worked or attended schools in the UK without any official documentary record of their having done so, other than the same records as any UK-born citizen.
Many of the countries the Windrush generation arrived from had come from became independent of the UK after 1948, and people living there became citizens of those countries. Legislative measures in the 60s and early 70s limited the rights of citizens of these former colonies, now members of the to come to or work in the UK. Anyone who had arrived in the UK from a Commonwealth country before 1973 was granted an automatic right permanently to remain, unless they left the UK for more than two years.
Since the right was automatic, many people in this category were never given, or asked to provide, documentary evidence of their right to remain at the time or over the next forty years, during which, many continued to live and work in the UK, believing themselves to be British, and why wouldn’t they?
Assisted by a caseworker from the Refugee and Migrant Centre, Wilson gathered documentation to prove that she had resided in England for 50 years and had been wrongly categorised by the Home Office. In 2018, she was officially granted leave to remain. Having settled her own case, Wilson became an activist and fought for the rights of other immigrants facing similar situations.
Media coverage of Wilson’s situation and her fight with the Home Office to gain recognition of her legal status in the UK, brought forward other victims, and highlighted the 2012 policies implemented by Theresa May during her time as Home Secretary. The events became known as the Windrush scandal.