Alongside tens of thousands of others, my parents came to Britain in the early 1950s. They came with little, my father’s family settling in a Nissen hut on a former prisoner of war camp near Portsmouth.
Britain became host to many incomers at that time and the Windrush generation, like emigrants fleeing India’s division, East Pakistan’s efforts to become Bangladesh or expelled Ugandan Asians, all arrived in a country that could be grimly hostile.
Around half a million people came to the UK from commonwealth countries until free movement ended in 1971. And now, 70 years after the Empire Windrush ship docked at Tilbury, some have found themselves inadvertently targeted by their own country.
It’s impossible to hear of the appalling treatment of some of these people without feeling shame. Like the “Dreamers”, immigrants at the centre of similar controversy in the US, out of the blue some have found Britain – their own country - suddenly hostile again.
That word again. Hostile. The word came up this week repeatedly at the new Home Secretary’s first outing at the dispatch box this week. As a child himself of Pakistani immigrants, I was relieved to hear him speak against it.
Because these are feverish times. Attempting to address illegal immigration by putting British citizens into a Kafkaesque bureaucratic limbo, struggling to meet demands for documentation, has uncovered fury from every side of politics and the media.
The UK has seen successive waves of immigration. Each one has brought with it a strong reaction followed by integration and acceptance. So politicians have a choice. They can either lead from the front, championing the benefits of an open and multi-racial society or push from the back, exploiting people’s fears. I know which I choose.