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Wolverhampton's Refugee and Migrant Centre and the City of Wolverhampton Council yesterday (Wednesday 9 May) officially launched the Paulette Wilson Windrush Citizenship Project to provide specialist advice and support to help residents gain their rightful citizenship.
A large number of people who came from the Commonwealth to the UK after the Nationality Act 1948 and before the 1971 Immigration Act were given the right of indefinite leave to remain, including around 3,000 people who are living in Wolverhampton.
However, a series of cases have arisen involving people, particularly from Caribbean communities, who have been long term residents of the UK but do not have documents to prove their status. As a result, they have been incorrectly identified as illegal immigrants by the Home Office and put at risk of deportation.
They include Paulette Wilson, from Wolverhampton, a former cook at the House of Commons who came to Britain from Jamaica in 1968. Her case was raised by Wolverhampton North East MP Emma Reynolds after she was detained at Yarl's Wood Immigration Centre and threatened with deportation.
The Government has now confirmed that anyone from the Windrush generation can become a British citizen, and that it would waive all fees for British citizenship applications.
Wolverhampton's Paulette Wilson Windrush Citizenship Project team will provide support to people who arrived in the UK from the Commonwealth between 1948 and 1971 and who may have either lost their documentation, or who were not provided with the correct paperwork in the first place, with a team of skilled immigration staff on hand to support their application for British citizenship.
Paulette said: "I am proud to support the Windrush Citizenship Project launched by the council and the Refugee and Migrant Centre.
"I believe that there are many people out there who feel vulnerable to the threat of deportation, loss of employment and who are not able to access healthcare due to not having proof of their rightful citizenship. They don't need to suffer in silence as advice and practical support will be offered to those who need help."
Councillor Roger Lawrence, Leader of the City of Wolverhampton Council, said: "It is scandalous the way some members of the Windrush generation have been treated and I am delighted that we are helping people caught up in this dreadful situation by taking positive and immediate steps to support our residents to gain their rightful British citizenship.
"They have worked here for decades, paying their taxes and enriching our culture and our City. They feel British in all but legal status and they should not be let down by failures within the Home Office and within the immigration system.
"Since the official launch yesterday afternoon, we have already been approached by a number of individuals who are concerned that they or a family member may find themselves in the same situation as Paulette, and I would encourage anyone from the Windrush generation who has any concerns about their status to get in touch as soon as possible."
Arten Llazari, CEO of the Refugee and Migrant Centre, said: "Since 2013, we have been dealing with individuals affected by the issues of what has become known as the Windrush scandal.
"Many vulnerable citizens, mostly of Caribbean descent, were harassed and banned from working, claiming benefits and accessing healthcare they were fully entitled to.
"They arrived in the UK as British citizens, have lived and worked here nearly all their lives and yet were repeatedly threatened with deportation.
"The legality of their situation should have never been questioned. We must reach out to everyone affected, casework the problem with the Home Office and ensure that they are fully informed and assisted free of charge through the process of claiming compensation."
Residents of Wolverhampton who are unsure of their immigration status and need support and advice can contact The Paulette Wilson Windrush Citizenship Project team at the Refugee and Migrant Centre by calling 01902 311554 between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caption: At the launch of The Paulette Wilson Windrush Citizenship Project are (front, centre) Paulette Wilson, her daughter Natalie Barnes and family friend Donna Marie Maxam, together with the Refugee and Migrant Centre's Office Manager Julie Hodgkiss and Chief Executive Officer Arten Llazari and the City of Wolverhampton Council's Equalities Officer Delva Campbell, Voluntary Sector Co-ordinator Martha Cummings and Director of Governance Kevin O'Keeffe