An inspiring student who is fighting for the victims of the Windrush scandal with the support of Edge Hill University talks about her experiences of working on such a high-profile case during Black History Month.
Law student Tonika Stephenson, from Knowsley, joined a volunteer legal team run by Manchester-based Crown and Law Solicitors in January 2019. She was tasked with working with victims of the Windrush scandal helping them seek citizenship and compensation from the government.
Tonika explained: “I was part of a volunteer team that works alongside law professionals to interview clients, help people understand their rights, apply for citizenship and claim compensation under the Windrush Schemes.”
The Windrush case addresses the injustices suffered by immigrants who came over to the UK to help rebuild England after the Second World War. Many of those people, along with their descendants and the descendants of others, still suffer because they do not have, or did not apply for British citizenship.
Talking about her experiences, Tonika said: “Working on the Windrush cases has been emotional, shocking and at times deeply frustrating. I’ve seen so many people who’ve spent their entire lives living, working and paying taxes in Britain only to have their lives turned upside down after being told they aren’t British and deported to a country they’ve never set foot in. Sadly, after two years, we are still dealing with the consequences.”
In March 2020 the independent Windrush Lessons Learned Review was released which gave a scathing analysis of the scandal, concluding that what happened had been “foreseeable and avoidable”.
Addressing the review, Tonika said: “While the 2018 Windrush Report and the 2020 review were successful in getting the Government to take notice and act there are still gaps in the response. When I’ve seen victims successfully apply for compensation, they have often received less than a year’s wages and are left feeling let down by the country they call home. And that’s only if they are successful, many have a long wait for justice.”
Tonika’s role has enabled her to gain experience working in a live legal environment while also developing her skills and CV. The 34-year-old saw her travel costs covered by Edge Hill’ Student Opportunity Fund and she has also received a University Scholarship in recognition of her volunteering to work on the project.
“The placement with Crown and Law has been a really amazing opportunity and I couldn’t have done it without support from my University”, said Tonika. “Thanks to my experience I’m now a Paralegal and Director at Windrush Defenders Legal C.I.C., a legal team who specifically help anyone affected by the Windrush scandal. I can’t wait to qualify as an immigration lawyer so I continue this vital work.”
Tonika believes this first-hand experience has already been a positive in her learning and will stand her in good stead for her future career path.
Tonika pictured with Martin Forde QC (second left), who wrote the Compensation Scheme for the Home Office and Anthony Brown (centre), a Windrush victim and Chair of the Manchester Windrush Team