The U.K. government announced it will allow foreign nationals directly affected by the Grenfell Tower fire in London to stay in the country for 12 months, regardless of their immigration status.
The 12-month amnesty means the Home Office will waive immigration rules, including routine checks on residents of Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk and background checks on people coming forward to provide information about the tragedy.
In a written statement, Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis stated the suspension of the immigration rules were put in place to reassure those foreign nationals who were too afraid to assist the police with their queries, due to their undocumented status.
“The government has already stated publicly that the Home Office will not use the tragedy as a reason to carry out immigration checks on those involved, and that all victims, irrespective of their immigration status, will be able to access the services they need,” the statement read.
“Everyone affected by this tragedy needs reassurance that the government is there for them at this terrible time and we will continue to provide the support they need to help them through the difficult days, weeks and months to come,” Lewis added.
However, many believe this is less to do with protecting immigrants and more of a ploy of the government to get unwavering assistance to complete the investigation.
“You can’t really call this an amnesty,” stated Jolyon Maugham QC, a barrister offering free legal aid to Grenfell victims. “The government is offering not to deport you immediately if you give it the wherewithal to deport you later. It’s hard to see that it will have the response the government says it desires.”
“A 12-month amnesty is like handing over a ticking time bomb to severely traumatized people,” said Karen Doyle of the immigration rights group Movement for Justice. “Navigating the immigration system, living with constant fear of deportation and being constantly told you are a liar is itself a traumatizing process. For those who are undocumented, who know what fate awaits them at the end of 12 months, this ‘offer’ means nothing. The only meaningful offer would be a complete amnesty with permanent right to remain. Let these people heal.”
Diana Abbott, the shadow home secretary, has also voiced cynicism for the suspension, stating the effort was not far-reaching enough.
“Some survivors have literally lost everything in this horrific tragedy, all their possessions, homes and loved ones," Abbott said. “The idea that on top of this they could be deported later is grotesque.”
“I’m pleased to see the government has met the request I raised in the Commons on Monday for an immigration amnesty for Grenfell survivors,” she added. “But this does not go far enough to ensure the confidence of those affected. Why would they volunteer their details knowing that in just 12 months they could face deportation? The amnesty must be indefinite to be truly effective.”
My letter to the Home Secretary asking for a full immigration amnesty for survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire without a regularised status pic.twitter.com/bEyZkCLfHc— Diane Abbott (@HackneyAbbott) July 5, 2017
The local government has also come under fire for it lukewarm re-housing efforts for the victims in the aftermath of the horrific tragedy. Only 14 out of 158 affected families have accepted offers of temporary accommodations, 19 families “have not yet been ready to engage” in the process of being re-housed while others are waiting for offers of permanent residence. Many residents are still living in hotel rooms, with four people crammed into a single room.
Some still show lack of trust in the authorities and are reluctant to leave their hotels, claiming help should be coming to them rather than them going to search for help. Many of them are traumatized and believe they are not being treated like victims, causing hostility with officials.
Authorities expect the search and recovery operations to continue until the end of the year.