A consul from the Jamaican High Commission who assisted the vulnerable victims of the Windrush scandal was voted the inaugural Consul of the Year.
The award – voted for by fellow consuls – was presented to Jamaican consul Tracey Ann Blackwood, at the Embassy Consular Conference.
Ms Blackwood was one of a shortlist of exceptional consuls, including Senen Mangalile from The Philippines, Magdalena Miluska of Poland and Hazem Abel Samad of Lebanon, all of whom had gone beyond the call of duty to assist their nationals in exceptionally difficult circumstances, such as the London and Manchester terrorist attacks, the Grenfell Fire and the consequences of Brexit.
In the end fellow consuls were moved by Ms Blackwood’s persistent efforts to assist elderly members of the Jamaican diaspora who had been wrongly classified as illegal immigrants and suffered homelessness, loss of employment and benefits, detention and deportation.
Ms Blackwood, who has served in the Jamaican Foreign Ministry for 20 years, dedicated her award to all Jamaican consuls, describing them as “truly caring individuals” and paid special tribute to her High Commissioner Mr Seth Ramocan and Deputy High Commissioner Angella Rose-Howell, as well as her colleagues: “This award is representative of the hard work and support of these high officials, the entire team, my consular staff in particular at the Jamaican High Commission, all committed to the task,” she said.
Arriving in London in 2017, Ms Blackwood heard about members of the Jamaican community that had fallen foul of the so-called hostile environment for immigrants.
“I kept thinking how devastatingly difficult it must be or have been for our peoples caught in that position, so many quite advanced in years. As a result, I reached out to those who had these challenges to offer support and information,” she told Embassy.
Ms Blackwood intervened in some of the most high-profile cases, including that of 60-year-old grandfather Anthony Bryan, who lost his job and was detained in an immigration detention centre twice, and was just days away from deportation. Ms Blackwood also worked with the Jamaican and UK authorities to assist in the return of Vernon Vanriel, a 63-year-old former boxer and 68-year-old retired English teacher Ken Morgan, to the UK. Both had been stranded in Jamaica and left destitute after being refused entry back into the UK for more than a decade.
In order to inform the diaspora from the Caribbean and Africa about the Windrush Compensation Scheme, Ms Blackwood assisted in the organisation of a seminar at Tottenham Town Hall, attended by many high-profile speakers, including Martin Forde QC, the Independent Adviser on the Windrush Compensation Scheme.
Ms Blackwood praised the joint diplomatic efforts of the CARICOM Caucus of High Commissioners who had worked to shine a light on the plight of the Windrush victims and had “represented the welfare of their nationals ably,” she said, adding that she was “pleased to note the requisite steps taken by the British Government to rectify the situation and await further developments.”
The persistent pressure and media attention resulted in the Home Secretary Sajid Javid announcing in April of this year the details of the Windrush Compensation Scheme in which he estimated total payments to victims would be in the order of £200 million.
Mr Javid also gave a personal apology to those affected by the scandal: “The experiences faced by some members of the Windrush generation are completely unacceptable and I am committed to righting the wrongs of the past,” he said.
“I would like to personally apologise to those identified in our review and am committed to providing them with the support and compensation they deserve.”
Above Photo: Embassy Director Elizabeth Stewart presents Tracey Blackwood with the Consul of the Year Award for her work assisting Windrush victims