NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

U.K. To Temporarily Waive Immigration Rules For Those Impacted By Tower Fire

The Grenfell Tower apartment building in London, after it was badly damaged in a fire last month that killed dozens of people.
Frank Augstein
The Grenfell Tower apartment building in London, after it was badly damaged in a fire last month that killed dozens of people.

The U.K. government says it is waiving immigration rules for a 12-month period on foreign nationals directly impacted by last month's deadly tower fire in London.

As The Guardian reported, U.K. immigration minister Brandon Lewis "told MPs the move was in recognition of the fact that some foreign nationals directly affected by the fire did not wish to engage with the authorities because of their concerns about their unresolved immigration status or because their permission to stay in Britain was about to expire."

The enormous blaze at Grenfell Tower in London killed at least 79 people, The Two-Way reported.

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said in a letter to Lewis that she "appreciated" the announcement, though she argued it didn't go far enough.

"I must reiterate that without a full immigration amnesty there will be survivors and relatives of survivors who are frightened to approach the authorities. There will be people who have died whom we will never know about, and too many people who need help whom will not receive it," Abbott wrote.

She added: "What assurances does it give a survivor to know that having volunteered their details, in just twelve months they could face deportation?"

Prime Minister Theresa May's government has come under criticism for its response to the fire. She had vowed to re-house those impacted in temporary accommodation within three weeks, Reuters reported. However, the wire service added that the "deadline passed on Wednesday and, while 139 families had been offered homes, only 14 had been accepted and just three had moved in. Many rejected the homes offered as unsuitable."

The BBC reported:

"Residents say they want to move into somewhere permanent and nearby. Many explain they have been offered numerous places that simply are not suitable due to the size, location and disabled access."

The government has announced that a task force would take over parts some of the Kensington and Chelsea Council's responsibilities, in light of the criticism.

"The delivery of the initial response on the ground was simply not good enough," housing minister Alok Sharma told lawmakers, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile the search and recovery operation inside the tower continues, the Metropolitan Police said in a statement Wednesday, adding that the investigators have recovered "the last of the visible human remains."

"In total, we have made 87 recoveries, but I must stress that the catastrophic damage inside Grenfell Tower means that is not 87 people," said Commander Stuart Cundy, who is leading the police response at the tower. "Until formal identification has been completed to the Coroner's satisfaction, I cannot say how many people have now been recovered."

Police said that they have formally identified just 21 of those who died, and they expect the search and recovery operation to continue until the end of the year.

There are 23 apartments out of the 129 in the building for which authorities have not been able to "trace or speak with anyone who was in those properties that night," Cundy said. "We assume that sadly, no one from any of those flats survived."

Siding or "cladding" on the building's exterior is thought to have contributed to the blaze's rapid spread. "The government said 190 buildings in England that underwent fire tests on their cladding ... have failed," according to The Associated Press.

NPR's Frank Langfitt reported that thousands of people have been evacuated since the fire from buildings with similar cladding.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.