LONDON (Reuters) - Illegal immigrants who survived a fire that killed about 80 people in a social housing block in London will be given a clear path to obtaining permanent residency rights in Britain, the government said on Wednesday.
The 24-storey Grenfell Tower, home to a low-income, multi-cultural community, was gutted on June 14 in an inferno that started in a fourth floor apartment in the middle of the night and quickly engulfed the building.
The building is in a deprived estate within one of London's richest boroughs, and the disaster prompted a wave of soul-searching about social inequalities and neglect of poor communities.
Some of the approximately 250 people who made it out of the building alive on the night of the fire did not have the legal right to live in Britain and as a result have been reluctant to make themselves known to the authorities.
The government had previously said that if they came forward, those people would be given leave to remain legally in Britain for 12 months -- a stance that drew widespread criticism for being ungenerous to people affected by the tragedy.
Martin Moore-Bick, chairman of a public inquiry into the fire, had asked the government to reconsider the policy, saying some survivors were unwilling to give evidence because of fears over their long-term immigration status.
"I therefore urge the government to take all necessary steps to dispel those fears," he said in a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May in August.
The Home Office, or interior ministry, said the new policy was that after the initial period of 12 months of limited leave to remain in Britain, Grenfell survivors would be able to apply for further periods of leave, building up to five years.
At the end of the five years, if they had not committed any offences, they would be given permanent residency, the Home Office said.
A spokesman said the government had not previously indicated what would happen at the end of the first 12 months. He said the new stance provided greater certainty.
Eligible survivors have until Nov. 30 to come forward and be granted their first period of limited leave to remain.
(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison)