British relatives' mood turns to anger

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The Independent Online

The back-room headquarters of the Kashmir International Relief Fund (Kirf) has barely closed since a giant notice, "earthquake appeal", written in bright red paint, was pinned up outside its premises in Leytonstone, east London.

The organisation had been working round the clock to counsel relatives, take donations and provide information for Britain's Pakistani community. But while the office had been crammed with relatives only 48 hours ago, yesterday they stayed at home.

Ishfaq Ahmed, the group's chief executive, said the mood had changed. " Yesterday people were worried, upset and shocked. Today they are angry. They are angry at the news they are getting that no aid has arrived for many of their relatives. Many have also had confirmation of the dead and are staying at home with relatives.'

The six full-time volunteers at Kirf had worked through a second night to take a stream of telephone and e-mail donations from around the world. Iftakhar Latif, project co-ordinator, said up to 80 per cent had come from non-Muslim, non-Kashmiri donors. "Everyone realises this is not a Muslim or a Kashmiri crisis, but a humanitarian crisis. It is very difficult for the families who have lost loved ones. They have not just lost one or two, but a dozen family members. These are people who they would have been speaking to just last week,'' he said.

Parveen Khan, charity co-ordinator, who left the office at 5.30am the previous night to return only two hours later and resume her job, said: "It's been an incredible response. Volunteers have offered to help take calls, we have had donations from the UK, from Europe and from America. A school from Birmingham is going to give us its collection of tins kept for harvest festival. We've had small children phoning up to give us £20 of their saved pocket money. I have had phone calls that have made me cry, but I have to keep going because every phone call counts."

Fozia Aslam, 23, who came with her friend Adila Mahmud, 19, said: "We have spoken to relatives and friends of relatives. So many are sitting in open fields with no water, unable to sleep, while we are sitting here with everything available to us. I couldn't stay at home at a time like this.''

Mr Latif said in spite of the remarkable response by donors and the mutual support offered within a close-knit community, there was a sense of disappointment from many of the families whose relatives were missing. He said: "Families want to know what we are doing and what is happening to people in the remote places such as Bagh and Singola. The attention is on Islamabad and not at the epicentre. They are naturally upset to get the news of relatives who have not been rescued."

At the nearby mosque, the Waltham Forest Islamic Association, a 15-minute collection after the 1pm prayer gathered over £1,000 from the congregation, the majority of whom originate from Azad, Kashmir. The money was added to the mosque's £15,000 fund collected over just three days. The mosque committee will continue daily collections during the month of Ramadan.

But some felt a greater financial burden ought to be borne by the government. Farooq Qureshi, a local councillor and worshipper at the mosque, said he felt numb after hearing the news of the earthquake and was irritated by the £500,000 the government had pledged for a disaster of this scale.

He said: "If the British government can afford to spend billions of pounds on Iraq for the sake of protecting oil supplies for the West then to offer this amount of money is a sick joke."