Muslim community rallies round Grenfell survivors

This piece was originally written with Robert Cusack for Al Araby.


A Muslim couple who survived the Grenfell tower blaze are now living in their son’s cramped flat in West London because they fear going to the authorities for help.

The couple, who asked not to be named, were approached by The New Arab at the local mosque on Friday, where they have been receiving help and assistance.

Their story echoes those of dozens of volunteers, lawyers and translators working with the Grenfell Tower survivors who have shunned official help due to fears of deportation.

“I’ve worked with a few people who weren’t registered legally and didn’t have a tenancy in their name – they don’t feel like they have any rights and are scared to come forward,” said one volunteer at the Muslim Association of Britain, who asked not to be named.

“Sometimes they’re staying at a friend’s house who’s living on benefits or in temporary accommodation and they don’t want to ruin their friend’s livelihood,” added the volunteer.

The Muslim community has rallied in a tremendous response to this fear, as neighbours turned to friendly and familiar faces for help instead of the distrusted council.

Muslim charities such as the National Zakat Foundation (NZF) and the Muslim Association of Britain have been at the forefront of the immediate response to the disaster.

“We receive donations from all over the Muslim community,” said Hayat, an aid worker at the NZF.

“Victims of the Grenfell Tower fire come in and ask for funds. We prioritise those who were in the tower and then we try and help people from surrounding areas.”

Many local residents said they sought help from local mosques and charities instead of again placing their trust in the council. The New Arab has spoken with many angry locals who asked why the council did not set up an emergency response team immediately after the disaster.

“It’s really not normal that people are still coming to us for help after nine days. How is this even possible?” said Ali, a 24-year-old volunteer at al-Manar mosque. “Where is the government?”

Faith in Kensington and Chelsea Council has been destroyed to such an extent here that several neighbours are sharing some extreme conspiratorial opinions.

One area resident, Maya, 35, said she was convinced the fire was caused deliberately because “the council or someone” did not want immigrant communities living near their luxury flats.

Maya’s wholly unevidenced opinion was supported by several of her neighbours. It is an allegation which appears to reflect the thoughts of much of the local community here.

A K&C spokesperson told The New Arab: “The Council would rebut any such accusation in the strongest possible terms.

“All matters concerning the fire are subject to a police investigation and a public inquiry.”

The language barrier

One Iranian translator suggested the community’s distrust may also be due to a disconnect cause by language barriers.

“I know loads of people who are simply scared and confused because they don’t understand what’s happening around them,” she said on Monday, on condition of anonymity.

Volunteers have told The New Arab that seven members of one Syrian family slept in their car after the tower burned down because they did not know that there was any support available to them.

Government support

Prime Minister Theresa May told parliament on Thursday that the UK government would not “carry out immigration checks” on survivors:

“We will make sure that all victims, irrespective of their immigration status, will be able to access the services they need, including healthcare and accommodation.”

On Wednesday, two council workers came to the temporary support centre at Westway sports centre to reassure victims through volunteers they would provide financial support and accommodation to all survivors – regardless of their immigration status.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has also expressed his support for an amnesty towards survivors of the fire regardless of their paperwork.

“There may be people who have got friends and family visiting, who they are worried about if they report them because they haven’t got immigration status,” said Khan.

“All of those people should feel confident that if they come forward and speak to the authorities, that no action will be taken.”

Yet despite this language from upon high, many people in the Muslim community have chosen to place their trust in those they know best.

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