UK visa delays block bereaved Grenfell families from attending inquiry

UK visa delays block bereaved Grenfell families from attending inquiry
Relatives of Grenfell inferno victims will open the inquiry into the tragedy, while the government comes under criticism for delaying visas of those due to attend.
3 min read
21 May, 2018
The Grenfell Tower blaze killed 72 people last June [Getty]
Families of the victims of the Grenfell Tower blaze are to open an inquiry into the inferno with tributes to their loved ones, amid reports some relatives have been blocked from attending due to visa issues.

A total of 72 people were killed in the fire, which engulfed the high rise on 14 June, 2017. 

Among the dead were a family of six originally from Lebanon, whose remains were repatriated last year, and a 23-year-old Syrian engineering student who had fled Assad's regime in 2014.

The first phase of the public inquiry, starting on Monday, will look into the cause of the fire, how it spread and how the building was evacuated.

All the victims' names will be read out at the hearings, taking place at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in South Kensington, west London, with some families choosing to give a tribute, without a time limit on how long they want to speak for.

Lead counsel to the inquiry, Richard Millett, said beginning the proceedings in this way will mean "we will never lose sight of who our work is for and why we are doing it".

Visa delays

However, some relatives have been blocked from entering the UK to give evidence at the inquiry due to visa issues, The Independent reported on Monday.

Lawyers representing the families said that despite pressuring the Home Office for months over the urgency for the permits, they have had no response.

Moroccan man Karim Khalloufi, whose sister Khadija died in the blaze, applied in December for a visa for him and his mother. They were eventually granted permits after The Independent intervened, though will arrive in the UK two days late to the inquiry.

"I'm angry it took so long; there was no reason for this delay," he said. "We have been suffering, waiting; they have been confusing us."

The Home Office said applications were considered on a case-by-case basis.

In the days after the devastating blaze, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of London to demand answers and vent their frustration over Prime Minister Theresa May's handling of the disaster.

The second phase of the inquiry, due to begin next year, will look at the lead-up to the fire, including the safety of the building and the use of the cladding that had recently been fitted to the outside. It has been alleged that the cladding, which was fitted for cosmetic purposes, provided fuel for the fire to shoot up the side of the block.

Online outrage

The lack of fire alarms and sprinklers in the building has heightened anger over the Conservative government's programme of austerity, which has seen huge cuts to public spending, including in housing.

Social media users on Monday drew comparisons between the cost of the royal wedding on Saturday and the price of fire-proof cladding which could have saved lives.

There was also anger over the number of Grenfell survivors who remain homeless and reliant on food banks almost a year since the blaze, despite the government's pledge to rehome families.

According to an Inside Housing report in April, only 66 out of 212 Grenfell households have moved into a permanent home.