Borough woman's relief as Windrush scandal finally highlighted
A woman from the borough caught up in the ongoing Windrush scandal has spoken of her relief the issue has finally been put in the spotlight.
Lena Somerville, from Leigh, has battled for years to get passports and official documents to prove her residency status to no avail.
She arrived in the country from Jamaica in 1962 aged just seven and settled in the borough at 16 when she entered the care system.
Her case echoes others now in the public eye where people arrived as children from Commonwealth countries before they became independent and do not have proof of their legal right to live in Britain.
The public and political backlash has been so severe that the Home Office has been forced into action, with an urgent task force set up to sort the problem within weeks and home secretary Amber Rudd and PM Theresa May both saying sorry for people’s ordeals.
Ms Somerville spoke of the embarrassment and the difficulties caused by not being able to get official documents.
Despite her deep sadness at what has happened, with British citizens denied healthcare, removed from jobs and in some cases even deported due to strict Home Office rules, Ms Somerville, of Larkspur Close, said she was relieved ministers were finally being held accountable and the issue was dominating headlines.
Ms Somerville, 63, said: “What has happened is very sad but I just feel I can breathe now and hopefully get a passport.
“I haven’t stopped smiling since all this came to light. I just think: ‘At last’. I thought I was the only one, I didn’t realise there were so many of us affected and not knowing where to turn.
“We can now be who we are: British people. Our families came here to work and get the country up and running again after the war and since becoming an adult I’ve been part of that. I’ve worked, my kids have grown up here, I’ve taken nothing out and put in.
“I came here as a British citizen. We were taught everything British in Jamaica. To be suddenly told you are not is quite hurtful.
“A few years ago I got in touch with an immigration organisation in Manchester and I got indefinite leave to remain.
“I’m fortunate to have that or I could have been out of a job or deported.
“Even then, and after passing the Life in the UK test, I couldn’t get a passport. At one stage I even tried to get a Jamaican passport but I couldn’t get one because I never had one in the first place.”
Ms Somerville arrived from the Caribbean with her step-sister and spent her childhood in Chorley with her great-auntie.
After arriving in Leigh she went on to a long and varied working career, working in the NHS before qualifying as a mental health nurse and in between doing other jobs including working in retail on the high street and running a fish stall in Oswestry in Shropshire.
She retired from the NHS two years ago but continues to put her mental health training to use at the Making Space rehab unit in Lowton.
She said: “Every three years at work we have to do DBS checks and I’ve got to bring this indefinite leave to remain form and explain the situation to my colleagues. It’s embarrassing and horrible and I don’t want to have to do that any more.
“There have also been occasions where I’ve been asked to go on foreign trips by my colleagues and I’ve had to say I don’t like going away rather than say I’ve no passport.”
Ms Somerville says she shared her story to ensure other people possibly in a similar position know they are not alone.
She went to the office of Leigh MP Jo Platt to speak to her staff this week and the parliamentary representative has agreed to raise Ms Somerville’s case with the Home Office.