The Windrush Betrayal

Zeljka Oparnica, PhD student in the Department of History, reports on journalist Amelia Gentleman’s talk about the Windrush Scandal that took place as part of the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology’s Discover the Past lecture series that welcomes Birkbeck students, alumni and guests.

The Empire Windrush in 1947.

The Empire Windrush in 1947.

Amelia Gentleman’s reportages in the past two years covered a series of immigration issues that became known as The Windrush scandal. In this talk, she covered the background of both her reporting and the results it had provoked.

Professor Jan Rueger, Head of the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology Department greeted the audience and introduced the speaker and her book, stressing an important historians’ credo: “People’s voices matter, individual lives matter, and persistent research and adept covering of injustice can make a difference.” Amelia Gentleman began by reflecting on her background in history. That was a great introduction to the talk that followed the storylines of individuals leading to the discovery of a systematic fallacy, showcasing the background of “big history.”

What led to the series of reportages was a single case which came to Gentlemen through an NGO in November 2017. It was a story about a woman who came to the United Kingdom in her early childhood and was detained and about to be deported to Jamaica at the age of 61. For about two years prior to her detention, she had been receiving letters from the Home Office warning her about her illegal status. What at first glance seemed to be an oversight by the Home Office, turned out to be just the first among many isolated cases. The day when the article was printed in the Guardian, Gentleman received a call from the son of a man in a similar situation facing deportation. The individual cases started to line up and it became evident there was more to the series of what seemed like lone, disturbing cases. Her emphatical but sober writing, followed by amazing photo portraits, incited readers’ reactions and brought the well-needed attention.

Amelia Gentleman with her book 'The Windrush Betrayal'

Amelia Gentleman with her book ‘The Windrush Betrayal’.

Beyond talking to a number of affected individuals, Gentleman also referred to immigration lawyers, law centres, and PMs from areas with high immigration rates. As the stories received ever more publicity and caused a public uproar, the Home Office reacted to individual cases, and ministers offered half-hearted apologies. There was a rush to resolve the most prominent cases, and it was difficult for all the people invested in helping to connect the dots.

After months of research, Amelia Gentleman came to a true historical revelation. Behind the dozens of comprehensive individual reportages were around 500,000 cases of undocumented people who were born in the Commonwealth countries and came legally, as imperial citizens, to the United Kingdom in the period between two Immigration Acts, namely 1948 and 1973. The lack of personal documents, such as passports, went hand in hand with what Gentleman called “the general British papers distrust.” Namely, even today 17% of British citizens do not possess passports, and in the previous decades, the number was much higher. It became apparent that the trigger was the so-called Hostile Environment, the Tory anti-immigration policies that came to power in the early 2010s. It became apparent how the citizenship of thousands of people depended on the unjust context of the present.

The stories reached their peak in 2018, overlapping with the seventieth anniversary of the arrival of the ship Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks in Essex. Since those affected by the new Hostile Environment policies were the descendants of the people who arrived in the same period, and it seemed like an appropriate name for the scandal Gentleman’s reportages.

However, Gentleman still feels bitter-sweet about the outcomes of her work. As a direct result of the stories’ publication, Home Secretary Amber Rudd resigned in April 2018 and a public promise was given to all affected that they could claim compensation from 200 to 572 million pounds. Up until today, over eight thousand people affected by the scandal have been granted citizenship or papers that confirm their full legal status. The number of detainees in deportation camps has also decreased. However, only 32 people have received some compensation, and many of those who have a right to compensation have either died or are very old. The Hostile Environment policies have not been repealed nor debated. With this sobering overview, Amelia Gentleman ended her talk by underlining that the list of tasks is long. For both journalists and historians.

In the well-established Birkbeck tradition, the talk sparked a comprehensive discussion that lasted for another hour.

 

 

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Birkbeck’s Tier 5 Employment Event

Guest speakers Lucy Robinson and Zenia Chopra helped Birkbeck international students navigate the world of Tier 5 Visas and employability.

A slide from the talk outlining different types of Tier 5 visa.

Many of Birkbeck’s international students seek full-time employment after their graduation, facing the need to apply for a Tier 5 visa in the UK, so La Young Jackson, International Liaison Officer, organised a talk outlining the steps students need to take. On Friday 28 February, she welcomed Zenia Chopra and Lucy Robinson to share their knowledge regarding employability at Birkbeck and beyond.

Beginning with a quick overview of Birkbeck Futures and her role as manager of the Pioneer Programme, Lucy Robinson outlined the many ways in which Birkbeck Futures continues to support and guide students in building their future careers. Moreover, in starting a business, or in getting an idea off the ground, Birkbeck’s Enterprise Pathways programme offers plenty of support to students and alumni alike. Lucy’s team continues to help students in developing their entrepreneurial skills, enhancing employability opportunities and advancing their future careers.

Secondly, Zenia Chopra – from leading legal firm Kingsely Napley – went on to discuss the procedural guidelines for working visas in the UK. As she was once an international student in England, Zenia was able to present her first hand experiences. From official fees to qualifying criteria, Zenia was able to answer all of Birkbeck’s students’ questions regarding the Tier 5 working visa.

La Young Jackson would like to say a big thank you to Lucy, Zenia and to all of our attendees.

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Using an educational neuroscience approach to improve maths and science achievement in primary school

Safina Akram, MA Creative Writing student, shares her experience of attending Birkbeck academic Dr Iroise Dumontheil’s lecture, that took place as part of the lecture series celebrating 100 years of Birkbeck joining the University of London.

Dr Iroise Dumontheil

I recently chose to spend my evenings at Birkbeck trying something different. I’d heard about Birkbeck’s 100th anniversary lecture series, celebrating 100 years of the College being part of the University of London.  And being a Birkbeck student on an MA Creative Writing course, I thought, why not?  It’ll be fun, something different and you never know I might learn something.

I entered the Clore building, to be greeted by the traditional lecture room.  George Birkbeck – what would you think of your Birkbeck now?  I wonder.  What would you think of me coming through these doors?  And what would you think of this lecture series?

The topic, you ask? ‘Using an educational neuroscience approach to improve maths and science achievement in primary school’ by Dr Iroise Dumontheil, Reader in Cognitive Neuroscience at Birkbeck.  Quite a mouthful and yet in one hour, this topic will be justified, explained and I would walk out of this room having been enlightened on what it was all about.

The lecture began, and it was interesting to hear how the series of lectures came about, that each school chose its speaker and the topic.  Dr Iroise Dumontheil was an articulate, informed and mesmerising speaker.  She had grace and elegance, and I was enthralled by the way her hands moved.  They conveyed her passion for her topic and we, her audience, were in safe hands, as step by step, we were led through her research.

The research took a ‘A stop and think approach.’  It’s interesting that neuroscience is working to understand how our minds work and what it is we can do to change the way we think.  Dr Dumontheil spoke about humans having a rational side and an intuitive side and the difference between the two.  She also talked about how the study was spread over different schools in the UK, the inclusion of children from lower socio-economic groups and the number of schools that took part. I took it all in, for it was captivating that research too is like a story.

Dr Iroise Dumontheil's lecture

The questions came from different parts of the room.  The inevitable cross examination of the sample size was there at the end.  This was followed by a question about the data.  Why such an impact on Year 5 and Year 6 children?  This is what education is about, ultimately, questions and answers.

We left the lecture hall and gathered around the table decked with drinks and snacks. I found myself conveniently next to someone, and so we began talking.  She was an alumna, a grandmother, who like me had commuted to Birkbeck that day.  We talked about the lecture, ate a few crisps, she told me how she too had been a student here.  She explained the impact it had made to her life, and how she had been interested in this lecture because she has grandchildren and wanted to understand what the research indicated.  I remember looking around, as people mingled and talked, from such diverse backgrounds, with their unique histories, here they were, in this space.

Reflecting now, I enjoyed the experience, I appreciated the opportunity of learning about something I hadn’t studied.  I liked hearing the stories of others, the people on the stage, and the ones in the audience too.  It led me to booking a place on the other 100th anniversary lectures, hearing from speakers Sir Ed Davey, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats, on the climate emergency; Baroness Helena Kennedy QC on the rule of law, I remember her passion and how it was infectious, for at the end of that lecture I too wanted to be like her; and Professor Dame Marina Warner, Re-imagining Place, Re-weaving Story, one word is all I have, inspiring, I dream of being a writer like you.

George, I do believe, you would be rather pleased, if you could see your Birkbeck now.

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The international student experience at Birkbeck: Cooking up a storm

In a follow up to the School of Business, Economics and Informatics’ recent cooking classes at L’atelier des Chefs, students Nomvelo Mlotshwa and Mariem Ben Maallem share their experiences first hand.

“As an international student, the reason why I came to London was to catch a glimpse of the diverse cultures and traditions that are as diverse as the people at Birkbeck, University of London. The cooking classes for international students organised by William Richards have been such a wonderful opportunity to do exactly that.

I have been able to attend the cooking classes at L’Atelier des Chefs on Wigmore Street and all I can say is that it has been a wonderful experience to whip up something so simple and outright delicious in just under thirty minutes. The staff at L’Atelier des Chefs are so friendly and the chefs really make one fall in love with cooking again. The atmosphere of the cooking class starts when we meet at the Malet Street building, the laughs, the walk to L’atelier des Chefs has really cemented friendships that go beyond the class.

The cooking classes have allowed me as an international student to talk to other international students, make friends whom I would have not met as we are all from different levels in our studies. I have met undergraduate and postgraduate students from the Department of Management and this has made my time here at Birkbeck worthwhile.

Not that the time at the kitchen hasn’t come without freak accidents. My first time trying to look all cool and fast with the knife, I then had the knife go into my left forefinger. No one saw really what had happened because it all happened so fast but all I can say is that I have learnt a lesson or two from these classes!

Many thanks go to William and the entire team at the School of Business, Economics and Informatics.” – Nomvelo Mlotshwa, Sport Management (MSc)

“This cooking class is my favourite event and I have not missed any Friday class. We meet in front of our university and we will go together to the cooking class. It is a very nice walk where we look forward to what new dish experience we will have (and also to catch up on our life in London’s premier University😊), some of which I have cooked at home, to the delight of my flatmates.

Our exceptional plate this week was to prepare Japanese noodles with fish.

This was my third class, and I always have the same feeling, impressed by the chef and his passion for his work. As a start, the chef shows us all the steps to prepare our lunch, explaining all the ingredients that we will use for today’s meal. I like this chef, he is very energetic, very communicating, and he will continuously try to get all our interest by telling us the story behind each meal. He will make us understand every technique that he is using while cutting the onions or slicing the pepper. The chef was not only teaching us how to cook, but also sharing the best tips that he learned during his career.

The cooking class was about discovering new recipes, but also, about teaching us how to work in a group, it was teamwork! We were 5 members per table, and were sharing tasks between us, in order, to prepare our lunch. It is not a competition, but we found ourselves competing; who is going to finish the first using the same techniques as the chef, who the chef will say is best 😉. The funniest part of this class is that we all followed the same instructions, the same chef, but almost none of us was doing it in the same way. What is also hilarious, is that we were waiting for the first person to start so we all will follow, and copy, him or her immediately.

This meal was extremely delicious, like all the previous ones, but this time it was with a special flavour “orange”. I ate it all… everything I had on my plate, while also, of course, enjoying the interesting and different company, of fellow Birkbeck international, students. My favourite part was the dessert time. I wait excitedly for the surprise, because we do not know what we are having, but what I know is, that it is always very delicious! Let’s not forget the group photo; it is becoming a ritual to have a picture every time.

I will keep going to these classes because I am truly learning new recipes and I am always trying to cook the same thing at home. Sometimes, I am even adding my Tunisian touch 😎” – Mariem Ben Maallem, Business Innovation with International Technology Management (MSc)

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