Immigration amnesty for Grenfell Tower survivors labelled 'meaningless' as Home Office admits few are coming forward

'The low number of people coming forward evidences the cynical and unattractive offer made by the Government to a number of people abysmally let down by the establishment'

May Bulman@maybulman
Saturday 02 September 2017 10:29
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Campaigners said the low number of victims coming forward was evidence that the so-called amnesty was ‘meaningless’ for vulnerable victims, with the 12-month limit meaning survivors would ultimately be at risk of deportation if they come forward
Campaigners said the low number of victims coming forward was evidence that the so-called amnesty was ‘meaningless’ for vulnerable victims, with the 12-month limit meaning survivors would ultimately be at risk of deportation if they come forward

The immigration amnesty offered to Grenfell Tower victims has been dubbed “meaningless” after it emerged a minuscule number of people have contacted the Government seeking to access the support.

A policy announced by the Home Office in July offered immigrants who survived the fire the chance to claim a 12-month period of limited leave to remain in the UK with access to state support and assistance.

But The Independent has learnt that a very small number of immigrants affected by the blaze have taken up the offer.

The Home Office refused to give a figure on how many people had approached them to access the support, but a spokesperson made it clear that the number was very low.

Campaigners said this was evidence that the amnesty was “meaningless” for vulnerable victims, with the 12-month limit meaning survivors would ultimately be at risk of deportation if they come forward.

Organisations and support groups who have worked with immigrants who survived the fire meanwhile told The Independent they had seen a number of undocumented victims who had not taken the support, due to fear of giving their details to the Government and being removed from the country.

Jolyon Maugham QC, a prominent barrister who has volunteered his services to Grenfell victims for free, said the small number of people accepting the amnesty was evidence that it was a “cynical and unattractive” offer, suggesting the Government knew “full well” undocumented migrants wouldn’t accept it.

“The low number of people coming forward evidences the cynical and unattractive offer that was made by the Government to a number of people abysmally let down by the establishment,” he said.

“There must be at least a suspicion that what the Government has done here is make a meaningless offer that it knows full well undocumented migrants can’t accept, so as to appear to be responding responsibly to the disaster at Grenfell.

“The fact that so many statements were made by the Government in relation to this issue of undocumented migrants rather evidences that Government was well aware that it was a substantial problem.”

Mr Maugham said a number of vulnerable people who had lost family members, suffered injuries and lost their possessions were afraid to come forward to state services because they feared their details would be passed onto the Government.

“There is enormous anecdotal evidence that there were significant numbers of undocumented migrants affected by the disaster at Grenfell,” he said.

“I’ve been told by a number of different sources that individuals were receiving medical treatment outside the NHS from charities because they were afraid to come forward to the NHS because they feared it would lead to their information being passed to the Home Office.

“These are people who would have had close family members burnt to death, who will have suffered profound personal injury, lost substantially all of their possessions.”

Chai Patel, legal and policy director of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said it was “unsurprising” that very few people had taken up the offer, urging that it was wrong to call it an amnesty.

“It’s simply wrong to call this offer an amnesty. It’s a temporary reprieve that requires undocumented migrants to give their personal information to people who will be trying to remove them from the UK in a mere 12 months,” he told The Independent.

“It’s unsurprising the Government has failed to find many takers.”

Emma Norton, head of casework at human rights group Liberty, echoed these concerns, claiming that the offer was a “false amnesty” designed to bring immigrants to the attention of the authorities.

“An extended deadline doesn’t change the fact that this is a false amnesty aimed at bringing vulnerable foreigners to the attention of the Home Office,” she said.

“The very need for the extension suggests people have seen this nasty policy for what it is – a time-limited trick which will strip them of everything in a year’s time, before detaining and deporting them.

“The only way to ensure undocumented survivors access the vital services they need to rebuild their lives is to grant a permanent amnesty.”

The amnesty was supposed to end this month, but the Home Office announced they had extended by three months on Thursday in an apparent bid to give people more time to come forward.

A spokesperson said it would be publishing how many people had taken up the offer “in due course”. Announcing the extension of the offer on Thursday, immigration minister Brandon Lewis said: “The welfare of survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire is a priority for this Government.

“We believe that extending this policy for a further three months gives survivors further opportunity to come forward, both to receive support for the exceptionally traumatic events they have experienced and to provide essential first-hand accounts of the fire.

“I also hope this extension will help to dispel people’s fears about coming forward to assist the inquiry into this horrific and unprecedented incident due to their immigration status.”

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