HEARTBREAK: Hosna and Komru Miah; (below right) the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire; and (below) Omar Salha


by NADEEM BADSHAH VOLUNTEERS RECALL EXTENT OF TOWER TRAGEDY A YEAR ON A PhD scholar has told of the “harrowing experi­ence” of helping to bury around 45 victims of the Grenfell Tower fire with a team of volunteers. Omar Salha is part of the Grenfell Muslim Re­sponse Unit (GMRU) set up in the wake of the blaze in west London which killed 72 people. Britain will mark one year since the tragedy on June 14. The GMRU has helped bereaved families, those forced to find a new home and supported individu­als in temporary accommodation. It also arranged for translators, legal aid, counselling, and helped families identify loves ones for the burials. Among the victims of Grenfell were Bangladeshi family Komru Miah, 82; his wife Razia Begum, 65; and their children Abdul Hanif, 29; Abdul Hamid, 26; and Hosna Begum Tanima, 22. The children stayed in the flat and prayed with their parents, re­fusing to leave them as the fire took hold. In an interview with Eastern Eye, Salha said the GMRU worked with the coroner’s office, mosques and Christian cemeteries to organise 40-45 funerals. He said: “It was a harrowing experience; none of us was experienced in this field and we were deal­ing with one of the most tragic experiences since World War Two. “With little external support we had to learn quick. It was quite surreal. Week in, week out, it was like a funeral service. Handling transportation for families, prayers, going to the ceremony. “It was like someone playing the same foot­age in my head again and again. The emo­tions, the depressed and distraught feeling. “You almost felt numb with the num­ber of funerals we organised. The fam­ilies came first, gaining some sort of closure as they had to wait so long for them to be identified.” Salha, a PhD scholar at the School for Oriental and African Studies in London, is the founder of the Ramadan Tent Project, which has arranged Iftar evening meals for all communities to at­tend across the country during the month of Ramadan. He is organising Open Iftar Grenfell on June 14 at Kens­ington Memori­al Park in the capital, where 4,000 people are expected to attend. A report by the Muslim Aid charity, one of the funders of the GMRU, said the response by official bodies to the Grenfell inferno was “badly flawed in the first crucial days”. It said voluntary groups filled a void left by the lack of direction from authorities such as Kensing­ton and Chelsea council. “The consequences of the disaster were com­pounded by the weak leadership of the response initially led by the local council, which was slow to provide direction, co-ordination and information and to address multiple pressing needs,” it said. “Particularly in the first few weeks, this void was filled mainly by the community itself, supported by an array of local organisations and businesses, as well as individual volunteers and representatives from external organisations.” In response to the research, Kensington and Chelsea said it was not right to comment in detail because of the ongoing public inquiry. “We are committed to learning the lessons from the Grenfell tragedy and therefore we welcome this report as part of the learning process,” a council spokesman said. Salha grew up in Kensington near where the fire gutted the tower block and knew families who lost loved ones. He said: “I know families who lived in the tower. They were the age group of my younger siblings. I prayed in the local mosque, went to the gym in the local sports centre, I played football by the tower too. “The morning after the fire, we rushed to the wholesaler to buy goods [like] blankets, sanitary products for babies and mums, hot meals for Ramadan. “The heroes were the volunteers and organisations on the ground at the first moment. “There were massive failings be­tween the government and lo­cal authority, (prime minis­ter) Theresa May and (Lon­don mayor) Sadiq Khan said this.” On the Open Iftar Gren­fell event, he added: “Lots of families are getting ready to mark one year without their loved ones. “There will be uplifting speech­es and prayers to keep us united – that is the most impor­tant thing.”