Row brewing over Grenfell Tower survivors’ biometrics

Liberty lashes out at Home Office plan to retain data on survivors of the tower block fire after amnesty

The Home Office has been accused of misleading survivors of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, after insisting their data would never be used in immigration checks.

Burnt out flats in Grenfell TowerHuman rights group Liberty has spoken out after discovering that anyone seeking help from the authorities after being caught up in the disaster will have to provide biometric information.

Furthermore, guidance to Home Office staff shows that “biometrics will be retained” after a 12-month promised amnesty period is over.

“Theresa May promised the Government wouldn't use this tragedy as a reason to carry out immigration checks,” Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty, told the politics.co.uk website. “That's exactly what they're doing – and they're dressing it up as an act of compassion.

“This policy lures undocumented Grenfell survivors in at their most vulnerable, gets their data on file, gives them a brief reprieve, then exposes them to the same inhumane policies the Home Office inflicts on other undocumented migrants – enforced destitution, denial of basic services and the constant threat of detention and removal.”

Denying help

An annotated version of the Grenfell guidance, published by Liberty, indicates that help will be denied to anyone who “has refused to supply their biometrics” – which will then be stored and, potentially, used in the future.

“The only way to ensure undocumented survivors can access the help and support they so desperately need is to grant them a permanent amnesty,” Spurrier said.

The Home Office has insisted that it will not conduct immigration checks on survivors or those coming forward to provide information to assist the authorities in their enquiries.

Brandon Lewis, the immigration minister, said: “The Government has been clear that our priority is to ensure that victims of this tragedy get the access they need to vital services, irrespective of immigration status.”

UKAuthority.com reported last month that data transfer rules had been lifted for Grenfell Tower victims, after immigrants said they were too scared to seek help. Under pressure from support groups, Downing Street agreed that information obtained by the Metropolitan Police would not be passed onto the Home Office for possible further action.

The move came after community leaders in West London said many foreign nationals with uncertain migration status who lived in Grenfell Tower had simply “disappeared”. They were not on any missing lists, raising concerns that they had fled the site if they had survived the fire, despite losing everything and desperately needing help.

Legality in question

The Home Office, under Theresa May’s leadership, introduced rules requiring other public authorities to pass on data obtained from immigrants, even when the legality of such transfers was contested.

Most controversy has centred on a memorandum of understanding that has led to about 10,000 people a year traced by the Home Office through NHS Digital.

Picture by Chiral John, CC BY 2.0 through flickr