Marjorie H Morgan on the forgotten citizens of Merseyside's migrant communities

War has long-lasting impacts on generations of families. War takes many shapes in people’s lives. War reshapes people, changing their relationships to each other and to the land where they were born and where they live. Citizenship is a vital part of identity. When unexpected migration impacts a person’s life their identity can be altered overnight, or by the stroke of a pen.

Black people should not become forgotten citizens in this rush to embrace foreign white European refugees

The Nationality and Borders Bill, that passed a second reading in the House of Commons on 23 March 2022, proposes the Home Secretary has powers to remove the British Citizenship of any person without prior notification.

Historically, these powers have been used predominantly against Black British citizens known as the "Windrush Generation". Liverpool’s own Barry "The Bee Whisperer" Chang has been subjected to a hostile environment of the Home Office as he has been detained for removal from the UK on a number of occasions.

Almost Liverpool 8 Documentary Film Toxeth Granby Liverpool Daniel Draper Don Mc Cullin Tate Barry Chang Beekeeper
Barry Chang in the documentary 'Almost Liverpool 8' Image: Don McCullin

Harold Barrington Chang, known locally as Barry, is not the first Black British person, nor will he be the last to be illegally classified as not British. 

At a time when the number of refugees to the city is likely to increase because of the Russian incursion into Ukraine, it is useful to look back at the roots of migrant communities in Merseyside, and the ongoing question of British citizenship that has been based on skin colour.

Liverpool’s Black population can be traced in official records for centuries. Many Black sailors settled in the port city from as early as the 18th century. During the American War of Independence (1775 - 1783) a number of African American enslaved men accepted the British offer of freedom to desert their American enslavers and pledge loyalty to the British Army. 

Many of these Black Loyalists settled in various cities across the UK including London and Liverpool. An example of a Merseyside Black American Settler is found in the St. James Parish Record 1783 that reads, “Peter Salisbury, Negro from Baltimore, Maryland, was baptised September.”

William Brown Street Liverpool Slave Trade Slavery Plaque Eric Scott Lynch Museum
A plaque in Liverpool marks the port's links with the slave trade Image: Confidentials

These people settled in the country and raised families in their new homes and communities. They took on the identity of their new country; however some Black Loyalists left the country to live in Sierra Leone, Africa or the Bahamas.

It is possible that in the midst of the fresh new horrors of the war between Russia and Ukraine that people like Barry “The Bee Whisperer” Chang will become second class or forgotten citizens. The history of colonisation and slavery that linked the people of Africa, and the Caribbean to the UK is now under the umbrella of The Commonwealth.

The Home Secretary has powers to remove the British Citizenship of any person without prior notification.

This raises the questions: is British citizenship a question of colour? Earlier this year, Lord Simon Woolley raised concerns that the Nationality and Border’s Bill would render both him, alongside people like Barry Chang, to be viewed as second class citizens.

The experience of unexpected displacement in this new European conflict has hit a chord with many European people, and there has been an overwhelming offer of humanitarian help and support from ordinary British people to home these Ukrainian refugees.

St Georges Hall Liverpool Flying The Ukraine Flag
St George's Hall in Liverpool flying the Ukraine flag Image: Confidentials

The British Government has made a public and concerted effort to welcome these new European refugees to these shores because they “seem so like us,” according to Daniel Hannan writing in the Telegraph.

The Conservative government has stated that, “The UK is leading from the front in our support for Ukraine”. 

This positioning is wholeheartedly welcomed by British people. However, there is a confusion of national identity relating to people from African and Caribbean heritage because they are still subject to the hostile environment implemented by the Conservative Government.

At the start of the public uproar about the Windrush Scandal, the Ombudsman upheld 75% of the complaints against the Home Office and their decisions where they incorrectly removed British citizenship. 

Contributions By Shane D’ Allessandro International Slavery Museum
'Contributions' by Shane D'Allessandro Image: International Slavery Museum

The Windrush Compensation Scheme was set up to address these inherent problems, however that had also been subject to ongoing implementation problems and the victims of the hostile environment have continued to suffer hardship because of the British government; a recent report (24 March 2022) states that the scheme has “structural weaknesses” and needs reform so it can be “efficient and effective”.

This is the same government that has led with slogans of "hostile environment", "go home" and other words of violence on vans that target Black British citizens in their UK homes.

Black people like Barry "The Bee Whisperer" and Lord Simon Woolley should not become forgotten citizens, or second class citizens in this rush to embrace foreign white European refugees. All British citizens, regardless of their skin colour or their route to citizenship, should be treated equally at home and abroad.

Follow Marjorie H Morgan on Twitter: @MarjorieMorgan

Cover Image: Mural on Princes Park Methodist Church © Confidentials

Read next: Liverpool's first slavery plaque goes up on William Brown Street

Read again: ‘Almost Liverpool 8’ - Toxteth film is coming to cinemas

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