The Home Secretary has admitted that more than 60 people may have been wrongfully deported or removed from the UK amid the deepening Windrush scandal.
Speaking to the Home Affairs Committee, Sajid Javid revealed the Home Office was investigating 63 cases of Caribbean nationals who may have been removed from the country despite living in the UK legally for decades.
He stressed that work examining records was continuing and that the final number was still subject to change.
The government’s first estimate of the number of people wrongly made to leave the UK come as Labour accused the government of wanting to “cover up” a series of other problems with the immigration system.
Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, said the Home Office had “bulled and brow-beaten” people into leaving under threat of deportation, and wrongly detained and refused entry to immigrants who have the right to live in the UK.
Mr Javid told MPs on Tuesday that officials had reviewed the records of 8,000 Caribbean nationals who had been removed or deported since 2002, and found that 63 of them may have been members of the Windrush generation.
“The department has been going back and checking its records from 2002 onwards looking at all removals and deportations of Caribbean nationals aged over 45, meaning they could have potentially benefited from the 1971 Act,” he told MPs.
“So far, we have found 63 cases where individuals could have entered the UK before 1973.”
Of the 63 cases, Mr Javid said 32 were foreign national offenders and 31 were administrative removals – of which he said all but one were voluntary removals, meaning they left because they received letters saying they must leave.
The home secretary’s admission comes a week after immigration minister Caroline Nokes told the same committee she was not aware of any wrongful deportations of Windrush immigrants. Moments later, Home Office official Hugh Ind told MPs the figure was ”up to five”.
Mr Ind also admitted during his evidence that about £3.3m was paid out last year in compensation for detentions later ruled unlawful in the courts, and acknowledged that there was a “deep problem” with wrongful immigration detentions.
When quizzed on whether Windrush citizens had been wrongly detained during the hearing on Tuesday, Mr Javid said he did not know, saying his priority was to know whether people had been wrongly been deported.
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Today, in the second in a series of speeches on immigration, Ms Abbott will say that in the wake of the Windrush scandal the government is trying to “cover up” wider errors in the immigration system.
“The Government now admits people have been wrongly deported. But it wants to cover-up three other important categories,” the shadow home secretary will say.
“One is those who were wrongfully detained in the immigration system. Another is those who were refused entry. And then there is the category of so-called ‘voluntary removals’, where people were bullied and brow-beaten into leaving under threat of deportation, even though they had a right to be here.”
It comes after Labour accused the government of attempting to cover up any role that the prime minister might have had in the Windrush scandal earlier this month.
Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesman said a government decision to oppose a plan for all papers relating to the debacle to be made public indicated the government was trying to “avoid accountability and clarity”.
The Home Office’s helpline has received at least 100 calls from the Caribbean nationals concerned that they’ve been wrongly told to leave. Overall, it has taken more than 11,500 calls, of which 4,482 were identified as possible Windrush cases and referred to taskforce.
The Windrush scandal has seen people who arrived from the Caribbean between the late 1940s and early 1970s, who have every right to be in the country, targeted by immigration officials.
Some have lost jobs and homes for failing to have the right paperwork, while there have also been stories of people being denied critical medical treatment and being targeted for deportation.