Windrush Square in Brixton, London, 2006. Photograph via.
From London Review of Books:
‘Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K.’ We never find out whether or not the opening line of The Trial is true, or what the lies might have been. Instead we are led into a suffocating world of innuendo and gossip, which slowly builds towards a judicial decision that doesn’t in the end arrive. Unable to discover what he’s been accused of, Josef K focuses on trying to navigate a system that is as senseless as it is cruel, ultimately without success. The world portrayed in The Trial is one in which judiciary and bureaucracy have collapsed into each other. The intimidating symbolism of the courtroom is married to the pettiness and absurdity of bureaucracy, creating a web that traps the book’s hero for no clear reason. It isn’t so much that he is suffering an injustice, as that he can barely work out what the justice system wants of him or how he might provide it. The real trial is the constant process, rather than the hearing itself.
It is difficult to imagine anything more Kafkaesque than the experience the ‘Windrush generation’ has undergone at the hands of the British state in the past few years. Cases are accumulating of individuals seeking NHS treatment, passports, jobs or housing only to find themselves having to prove their right to live in the country where they have been legally resident for more than 45 years, or risk being deported. Harrowing stories have emerged of individuals being made homeless, jobless and stateless, after they failed to produce proof they were never given in the first place. One man suffered an aneurysm which he believes was brought on by the stress the situation caused him, only to be presented with a bill for £5000 for his NHS treatment – again because his paperwork didn’t measure up – while also losing his job and his home. He was left on the street. As it turns out, the one source of evidence that might have put a stop to this torture – the landing cards that recorded arrivals from the Caribbean until the 1960s – was destroyed by the Home Office in 2010.
The Windrush generation’s immigration status should never have been in question, and the cause of their predicament is recent: the 2014 Immigration Act, which contained the flagship policies of the then home secretary, Theresa May. Foremost among them was the plan to create a ‘hostile environment’, with the aim of making it harder for illegal immigrants to work and live in the UK. By forcing landlords, employers, banks and NHS services to run immigration status checks, the policy pushed the mentality of border control into everyday social and economic life. The 2016 Immigration Act extended it further, introducing tougher penalties for employers and landlords who fail to play their part in maintaining the ‘hostile environment’, and adding to the list of privileges that can be taken away from those who cannot prove their right to live and work in the UK.