Grenfell fire: ‘I was too afraid because I’m undocumented’

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A man writing on a wall in remembrance of those who died at Grenfell TowerImage copyright PA
Image caption There are claims that the number of those killed in the fire is higher than the official figures

There have been persistent claims that the Grenfell Tower death toll is higher than official estimates because there were undocumented residents living there. One such woman explains why she is too afraid to come forward to the authorities.

Rhea is from the Philippines and lived on the 21st floor of the high rise tower, with her friend Helen and her 12-year-old daughter.

But, unlike Helen, 40-year-old Rhea wasn’t a registered tenant, having lost her legal right to remain in the UK in 2012.

Having been caught up in the fire on 14 June, she is now homeless and afraid to identify herself to immigration officials.

“I thought maybe they’d lock me up,” she says.

Rhea arrived in the UK in 2010 on a one-year working visa with an employer, but this expired.

“I didn’t have money to renew it and I couldn’t find an employer as a solicitor was holding my documents.”

She was left homeless and forced to rely on friends to let her stay in their homes. She eventually moved into Grenfell at the end of last year, and into her friend Helen’s flat.

“Helen is helping me, and she’s not been asking me for rent. She is helping me as a human being. She doesn’t want to see me outside on the street.

“In return, I am hardworking, all I can do is help her with her daughter.”

On the night of the fire, Rhea had gone down to another flat in the tower to visit a friend.

“In the beginning there was only smoke and then a fire broke out – it just kept getting bigger and bigger.

“I got out of the building, Helen was still inside with her daughter. I was talking to her for an hour on the phone.”

Image copyright Getty Images

Eventually Helen and her daughter escaped. Rhea says they are doing better and have now been released from hospital. But she now finds herself in the nightmare situation of being homeless again.

Police say about 80 people are currently thought to be dead, but charities and volunteers believe many unregistered people could have been killed.

They also say they have been in touch with other survivors like Rhea who are afraid to get help.

Image copyright AFP

Last week the government announced a 12-month immigration “amnesty” for survivors like Rhea. She now has all the documents she needs to stay and is being kept in a hotel.

“Home is different than the hotel. But I am grateful I’m here. I feel a bit better because there are people showing they care and are there to support me.

“After this, I don’t know. If there is possibility for me to have my own place, then I would like that especially as I have a young son.”

Rhea’s son was not in the tower at the time. She says she’s now trying to make use of her legal status, but the future is uncertain.

“My family back home need my support. I called them in the Philippines, and to hear them say they still need me, is upsetting.

“That’s why I was afraid to face immigration because they would send me home. I thought, how are we going to live? We are not rich, we are poor, we have nothing.”

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