Theresa May has reassured Commonwealth leaders that members of the Windrush generation who had suffered “anxieties and problems” as a result of the government’s immigration rules would be paid compensation.
The prime minister said she had given Caribbean leaders an “absolute commitment” at a meeting earlier this week that “the UK will do whatever it takes including, where appropriate, payment of compensation, to resolve the anxieties and problems that some of the Windrush generation have suffered”.
She added: “These people are British. They are part of us; they helped to build Britain and we are all the stronger for their contributions.”
May was speaking at the closing press conference for the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in London, which has been overshadowed by the treatment of the Windrush generation.
She has been under intense pressure to provide more reassurance – and pay compensation – to the affected individuals, some of whom have lost homes and jobs and been threatened with deportation.
The Labour MP David Lammy and the Jamaican prime minister, Andrew Holness, are among those to have called for compensation.
Speaking to reporters after the press conference, the prime minister of Grenada, Keith Mitchell, said he believed May and the UK government should be doing more to address the situation.
“I think there’s no question,” he said. “Clearly it’s something which is vibrating strongly in the Caribbean region as a whole. Many of our people came here and helped to build Britain, under conditions that were set for them. For me, it’s very unfair for them to be treated in the way they have been treated.
“The word compensation came out today – that was highly significant, extremely important. It’s not just, ‘I’m sorry.’ People lost a lot, people suffered a lot of pain, and they must be given an opportunity to correct this – some serious compensation. If not the person, if they’ve gone, then the families who have suffered, too.”
Asked if May should accept her “hostile environment” immigration policy was a mistake, Mitchell praised the prime minister for pledging to address the crisis.
He said: “I think the fact she has addressed it is indicating that Britain and the policy they enunciated initially was not the right one. And therefore by making the statement she made today, I think she’s heading in the right direction. And I’ll give her credit for making the right turn.”
Reacting to May’s announcement, Sarah O’Connor, 57, who moved to Britain from Jamaica 51 years ago when she was six, and faced bankruptcy after she was unable to take up a new job last year because she had no papers, said she was interested to hear about compensation but mainly felt rage with the government at the emerging scandal.