Dewsbury-born Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who is the daughter of Pakistani immigrants, said yesterday that she wanted senior politicians to “think long and hard about the trauma that we have caused” to the ‘Windrush generation’.
Her comments will heap further pressure on the Prime Minister and Home Secretary Amber Rudd after a slew of stories about immigrants who legally made their lives in the UK facing problems with access to healthcare and other state services.
Many in the Windrush generation - who arrived from the Caribbean between the late 1940s and 1970s - have no record of their status and have found it challenged under recent laws that require them to provide proof of near-continuous residence.
University of Leeds-educated Baroness Warsi, a former Conservative party chairman who served in David Cameron’s government until 2014, said that the story of Windrush migrants being prevented from healthcare was a “tragedy”.
She said: “It could have been my family, my grandfather arrived here in the fifties and my parents arrived here in the sixties, and I know growing up the paranoia that they had about paperwork and passports.
“I think that came from a deep-rooted concern amongst other things from the rhetoric we were hearing from the likes of Enoch Powell that there may come a day when they would be told to leave.
“I think 50 years on it’s tragic that very scenario that so many migrants and descendants of migrants lived with fear of came true during the Windrush tragedy.”
Speaking on ITV’s Peston on Sunday, she said: “We had an unhealthy obsession with numbers, we were wedded to unrealistic targets, targets which we still haven’t met a decade on and yet we continue to remain wedded to targets.
“What ended up happening was that we ended up with an attitude, I think, of indifference.”
The peer said she welcomed the apology over the Windrush scandal and hoped there would be a move away from the rhetoric which had dogged the debate around immigration for so long.
But she refused to add her voice to those calling on Amber Rudd to resign but said she would like ministers to “think long and hard about the trauma that we have caused these families”.
She added: “I hope this is a moment for us all to reflect, I think too often both within the Labour Party and Conservative Party we’ve been too quick to pander to favourable headlines in certain newspapers.”
Recent restrictions in immigration law require people to have paperwork proof of near-continuous residence in the UK.
Many of those in the Windrush generation lack these records, having never applied for British citizenship or passports, and are now struggling to prove they are here legally.
However, it has emerged that thousands of landing card slips recording the arrival of Windrush-era immigrants were destroyed by the Home Office in 2009.
The Government is to make compensation payments to members of the Windrush generation who suffered as a result of official challenges to their migration status. It is thought likely that payments will go beyond the reimbursement of legal bills and include a recognition of the anxiety caused.
The Windrush generation is named after the ship MV Empire Windrush, which arrived at Tilbury Docks, Essex, on 22 June 1948, carrying 492 passengers, many of them children.