The one-year immigration amnesty for undocumented residents of Grenfell Tower is a “travesty” and will jeopardise the public inquiry into the fire, lawyers said as the deadline for signing up was extended.
BMELawyers4Grenfell’s comments come as campaigners for survivors and victims of the blaze, which killed at least 80 people on June 14, accused the government of a “cover up”.
The Home Office gave survivors of the inferno, who were living in the country illegally, a window of protection from deportation to encourage them to come forward to authorities.
It followed concerns that valuable evidence about the events surrounding the fire would be lost without their cooperation.
Those wishing to benefit from the arrangement had until August 31 to apply, but on Thursday it was announced the deadline had been extended to November 30.
Ismet Rawat, from BMELawyers4Grenfell, told HuffPost UK that she is not aware of anyone who has taken up the offer of the 12-month amnesty.
“We’ve not heard of a single person taking this up,” she said.
Campaign group Justice4Grenfell also said it “seriously” doubts many survivors had taken up the offer. The Home Office said it would release information about how many had signed up at a later date.
BMELawyers4Grenfell is calling for a full amnesty for all undocumented residents of Grenfell Tower and others who may have been in the building at the time of the fire from the outset.
“The one-year so-called amnesty was a travesty, providing no real protection and leaving any such residents at peril of immediate deportation once that 12 months ended,” Rawat said.
There are two reasons why undocumented residents of Grenfell Tower should be given full amnesty, she added.
Firstly, it is the “right thing to do on a human level”, Rawat said. Also, it could have an impact on the integrity of the inquiry.
Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the retired judge leading the inquiry into the disaster, urged Theresa May to consider the long-term immigration status of survivors.
He wrote to the Prime Minister that he feared his investigation would be weaker without their evidence.
“These are people who more than likely are still too scared to access the help and support they desperately need,” Rawat added.
“The very clear message that the 12-month so-called amnesty provided was that we will allow you to stay so that you can help us with our enquiries and, once you are no longer of any use to us, we will probably deport you.
“That is not the mark of a human society.”
On Thursday, campaign group Justice4Grenfell also criticised the Government’s stance on the amnesty, saying in a statement: “The evidence of undocumented former residents of the tower could be critical in establishing what actually happened on the night, why would the Government wish to prevent such evidence from being given?”
Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis said in a statement on Thursday: “The welfare of survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire is a priority for this government.
“We believe that extending this policy for a further three months gives survivors further opportunity to come forward, both to receive support for the exceptionally traumatic events they have experienced and to provide essential first-hand accounts of the fire.
“I also hope this extension will help to dispel people’s fears about coming forward to assist the inquiry into this horrific and unprecedented incident due to their immigration status.”