'I’ve lost three years of my life' - Windrush pensioner was stranded in Jamaica
The desperate ordeal of Black Country pensioner Melvin who has finally been allowed back in Britain after a passport blunder
After 52 years living and working in the West Midlands, Melvin Collins’ life was that of a typical UK pensioner.
But in 2015 the retired youth worker from Walsall was plunged into turmoil following a bogus claim against his right to re-enter Britain.
For the last three years he has been stuck in Jamaica, barred from returning home and living on handouts.
The 72-year-old has become reliant on the good will of family and friends to put food in his mouth and keep a roof over his head.
His problems started when he was going through Gatwick airport using his new Jamaican passport in May 2012, as well as his older passport bearing the crucial ‘indefinite leave to remain’ (ILR) stamp – which gives its holder the right to stay in the UK for as long as they like.
For reasons unknown the immigration officer kept it and told him: “You don’t need that, sir.”
Mr Collins went home, threw his new passport in a suitcase and forgot all about it.
It was an oversight that came back to bite him.
On November 22, 2015, after a six-month break in Jamaica, he was prevented by Virgin Atlantic from boarding his flight back to Britain.
His ILR stamp had not been carried over to his new passport and, with his old passport confiscated, he was not allowed to fly.
Like many thousands of people who fell foul of the Government’s stricter immigration laws at the time, Mr Collins assumed his ILR would be renewed automatically when going through customs, as it had in the past.
“It was my lifeline. Once they take that stamp from you... I didn’t know it at the time, but it destroyed my identity.”
Mr Collins, who used to work for Walsall Council, says he would have ended up on the streets in Jamaica had it not been for his aunt Lena in Cambridge, a small town 15 miles from Montego Bay.
He soon ran out of money when his UK state pension stopped paying out because he had not answered letters sent to his home in Walsall.
With his situation looking increasingly bleak, Mr Collins spent the little money he had on buses to Montego Bay and endless hours printing forms at an internet cafe.
In April 2017, the Home Office rejected his returning resident application, explaining that he had gone to Jamaica without an ILR stamp.
He had become resigned to spending the rest of his days in Jamaica, where he had always planned to retire, having left the island in 1963 to join his parents in Britain.
However, he had never expected or indeed desired it to be in such circumstances. He says he hit rock bottom in December, spending Christmas Day was alone in a two-room flat, 7,400 miles from his daughter, son, brother, sister, nephews and nieces in Britain.
His festive meal was two ripe bananas, boiled and mixed with butter. He had barely enough money for food, having refused to borrow any more from relatives, to whom he owed 250,000 Jamaican dollars (around £1,500).
A fiercely proud man, he had steadfastly refused to plead for his old passport or ask for any sympathy.
“I’m not prepared to allow the Home Office to see me on my knees begging to come back to Britain. I don’t need to beg,” he said last month.
Then came solace.
In the wake of the Windrush scandal, Mr Collins was contacted by the Government’s Windrush taskforce.
He has now been told he will get a new passport allowing him ‘indefinite leave to remain’ in the UK – the same status he had before the whole ordeal began.
Mr Collins has mixed feelings over the issue being resolved, and admits he feels ‘let down’ by a British system he had previously trusted.
“I have to get home,” he told The Guardian. “I’m 72 bloody years of age, I’ve lost three good years of my life not being able to move.”
He is unequivocal about his feelings towards the Government. “I’ll never trust them again,” he said, before urging Britain’s Caribbean community to boycott the Government’s Windrush Day celebration last week.
The Government has yet to reveal how many people have been caught up in the Windrush scandal, which saw some Commonwealth citizens wrongly deported from the UK and others detained in immigration centres.
Emma Reynolds, the Labour MP for Wolverhampton North East, has called for compensation for members of the Windrush generation, including her constituent Paulette Wilson, who was detained in an immigration centre despite having lived in Britain for 50 years.
“The Government needs to come clean about how many of this Windrush generation have been detained and how many have been deported,” she said.