John Cheek on the Windrush generation and the creation of a 'hostile environment'.

Charles Mukerjee
Charles Mukerjee

It was a warm, bright day, in September 2000 and, for once, I wasn't wearing a biker's jacket and ripped-jeans. No, it was more appropriate for me to wear the one suit that I happened to own at the time, because I was going to court. Taylor House, the home of the Immigration Courts in London, to be precise. A handful of my fellow church members and I, along with an east European-looking couple, whom our church had befriended - ever since they had fled the war in Kosovo and the refugee camps there, and sought sanctuary in England, in little more than the clothes they were wearing.

This was post-Millennium Great Britain, peaceful and democratic, and anxious on the train up, were Nico (not his real name) and Mira (nor hers). They were wary of authority-figures, those who wielded power and not without good reason: Nico had witnessed the Serbs assassinate his brother, a politician, and then had to immediately flee from Kosovo to avoid a similar fate himself. Later, his wife and children had been re-united with him in Essex, amidst great emotion. They had been granted refugee status, but later on, an official-looking letter had informed them that, although Nico and the children were being granted permanent leave to remain in Britain, for some reason, Mira wasn't. She would have to be deported. We were now, as a church, supporting them in their appeal.

Memories of that time have come flooding back recently, with the coverage of the scandal affecting the 'Windrush generation'. Those who had been invited to come to the country from the Commonwealth, in the post-war decades. Only now, many face deportation; some have actually been deported; all have been affected in terms of health-care and benefits being curtailed. All because of a Government policy over the past eight years, where the deliberate creation of a 'hostile environment', towards anyone who may qualify as a 'foreign national' has been developed.

Matthew 25 shows Jesus personally identifying Himself with 'the stranger'. Sadly, this reality has received little sympathy from the Home Office in recent times. This has been reflected in the north, as I write. An Anglican church in Liverpool, already ministering to the homeless and victims of human trafficking in their inner-city parish, had to act when a family within its own congregation were unexpectedly removed to the Yarl's Wood detention centre in Bedford.

Wilson Mukerjee, a qualified solicitor, along with wife Ruth and son Charles - a Christian family - fled Pakistan after 'a family feud'. Eventually settling in Kensington, Liverpool, in 2014 after applying for asylum, they became an integral part of congregational life at All Saints church, as well as volunteering for their local Foodbank and for the charity Mencap. Charles suffers from acute epilepsy, as well as learning difficulties.

According to Sarah Jones, of Mencap Liverpool, the family went to register with the Home Office as required, on a fortnightly basis, when suddenly they were detained by security officers.

"They were taken in a security van and driven to Yarl's Wood, in only the clothes they were wearing, where they were detained in squalid conditions for five days. Charles had his medication taken away. They had no access to a sink in their cell and had to share a filthy bathroom with other detainees. Their food and drink was served to them on dirty cups, plates and trays. They were later given 'uniforms' which were ill-fitting. Charles was traumatised and experienced several fits and panic-attacks. It could take 30 minutes for medical assistance to arrive."

Charles with his dad Wilson and mum Ruth
Charles with his dad Wilson and mum Ruth

On Tuesday, 10th April 2018, the family were then unexpectedly taken back to Liverpool. Local MP Luciana Berger, along with All Saints church continue to represent the family. However, the Mukerjees have now learned that they have not been granted leave to remain in the UK and face an uncertain future, with their access to services removed.

"It caused us an awful lot of worry", said Rev. Phil Saltmarsh. "The touchstone of any 'compassionate society' is how it treats it's most vulnerable people. People seeking asylum, people fleeing violence, people with serious health issues, as Charles has - to treat them like this is simply appalling and the consequences of it are still going on.

"They were released from detention and were in church again, on the Sunday, where they spoke about their ordeal. Charles is still traumatised by it."

The Home Office states that it is not their policy to comment on individual cases.

Back in 2000, Mira had her appeal upheld and she was allowed to remain in Britain. Currently, the Mukerjees of Liverpool face a lot of anxious moments to come, fearing what will happen if they are deported back to Pakistan.

Readers of the Old Testament know that the word of God has great concern for the foreigner-in-our-midst. Leviticus 19:34 advises God's people, "The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt." Deuteronomy 10:19 states, "And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt".

Jesus personifies this word of God, in the gospels. Surely, as His followers, we must show similar concern for modern-day aliens and strangers? People who have been paying their taxes for five decades already. Christian families who have fled from elsewhere, with nothing. Jesus assures us that we will encounter Him, there: "whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.