the disowned children of the British Empire

A modest pavilion in a quiet north London street, between a primary school and the railway line. Buried in the sofa, Janet McKay-Williams and her companion, Anthony Bryan, caps screwed on their heads, receive us. The 65-year-old retired painter and decorator came to the UK in 1965, aged 8, from Jamaica, where he was born, to join his mother who worked as a seamstress in London. Born before the independence of the British colony (in 1962), Anthony Bryan benefited from a right of permanent residence in the “Mother country” (“motherland”), the nickname still given in the Caribbean to Great Britain.

In 2015, he wants to visit his mother, who has returned to Jamaica. He needs a passport: he never had one. He has so far never taken a holiday abroad and when he landed in the UK his name was on his older brother’s passport, as was often the custom for children. .

“After a few weeks, a Home Office contractor [le ministère de l’intérieur]the Capita organization, tells me that I am not registered as British, that I am in an illegal situation and that I will be deported if I cannot prove that I have lived here all my life”, says Anthony Bryan.

Reserved seat on a plane to Jamaica

This is the beginning of a real ordeal. Helped by Janet McKay-Williams, he tries to collect documents proving that he lived more than fifty years without interruption in the United Kingdom. But he lost his birth certificate a long time ago, his college no longer exists, his primary school only keeps records for twenty years.

“I had to contact teachers again, ask them for letters certifying that they remembered me. They asked me for photos, but it was not easy: at the time, why would I have taken a photo of myself in front of my school? ! Anyway, it was never enough for the Home Office, I was told that the documents I brought, I could have made them. They thought I was lying.” deplores Anthony Bryan.

Anthony Bryan, 65, was born in Jamaica before the country's independence.  He was twice placed in a detention center and threatened with deportation.  His story was adapted for the screen.
Janet McKay-Williams, partner of Anthony Bryan.

Likened to an undocumented person, he loses his job as a painter, his right of access to social assistance, to the public hospital. His situation worsens when he is arrested and threatened with deportation. He spent three weeks in a detention centre, 260 kilometers from London. “He was far away, I didn’t know how to reassure him on the phone, I felt helpless”, says Janet McKay-Williams. He is finally released ” because [qu’il a] ended up finding an error in his file,” after he presented the documents to the Home Office, she says (the authorities had mixed up elements of her file with that of a namesake). In 2017, Anthony Bryan was again arrested at his home. His place on a plane to Jamaica is already reserved when his companion gets the help of a lawyer, who blocks his forced departure in extremis.

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