Grieving Grenfell relatives could be forced to leave UK before end of inquiry

Exclusive: Home Office accused of subjecting Grenfell community to ‘hostile environment’ by limiting visas of family members with core participant status to six months

One Moroccan relative missed the beginning of the inquiry due to home office delays in the visa process
One Moroccan relative missed the beginning of the inquiry due to home office delays in the visa process

Grieving relatives of Grenfell victims could be forced to leave the UK before the inquiry into the blaze ends after the Home Office announced their visas would be limited to a further six months.

High profile MPs have written to the home secretary saying the extension was “problematic” because the probe would last longer than six months, meaning the bereaved may be required to leave the country before it ends.

In a letter seen by The Independent, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott and MP for Kensington Emma Dent Coad said the length of stay for core participants should be “at least as long as the inquiry, with potential for extension, depending on the needs of the individuals and their families”.

It comes after The Independent revealed earlier this year that bereaved relatives who were core participants had been unable to attend the start of the public inquiry due to Home Office visa delays.

One Moroccan man whose sister perished in the fire was unable to attend the start of the public inquiry because, despite applying for a UK visa months ago, the Home Office did not grant him one on time.

The Home Office announced in revised policy guidance last week that relatives who were core participants in the inquiry and were currently in the UK would be able to extend their stay for a further six months.

It also indicated that a number of core participants hadn’t yet been able to enter the UK, saying that relatives who were overseas with core participant status should be assured they would be considered “quickly on a case by case basis”.

Ms Abbott and Ms Dent Coad denounced the “unacceptable” delay in announcing the policy, which left many of those who had originally applied for visa extensions without confirmation of their status for many months.

The letter, sent to the Home Office on Friday, also states that survivors and the bereaved would need ongoing support from their families for longer than the maximum six months.

“Family support has been important given the council’s lack of communication, pace and empathy, identified by the government’s taskforce. Many of these problems persist,” the letter states.

“It is within your power to grant indefinite leave to remain on a discretionary basis, which would spare this small group of individuals the stress and uncertainty that often accompanies the application process.”

More than half of the families that escaped the blaze last June have been permanently re-housed, with 72 of these stuck in emergency accommodation, many of them families with young children.

Ms Abbott and Ms Dent Coad said that following the Windrush scandal, the Home Office must demonstrate that “lessons had been” learnt about the human cost of the hostile environment policies.

“The Grenfell community, already traumatised by catastrophic events, must not be subjected to any element of the ‘hostile environment’ policy,” they said.

A home office spokesperson said: “The Grenfell Tower fire was a tragedy that should never have happened. Our highest priority has been to ensure the survivors of the Grenfell Tower tragedy receive the support they need.

“We have always been clear that we will do everything we can to support the Grenfell Tower public inquiry and enable core participants to give evidence. That is why we have published revised guidance.”

They added that they would provide relatives with the certainty of further leave to remain for the anticipated duration of the inquiry oral evidence sessions, but that any requests to attend the inquiry beyond that date would be considered on a case by case basis under existing policies.

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