Refugee fled Syria violence only to die in the London fire
By Eliza Mackintosh
LONDON (CNN) — A Syrian refugee who escaped civil war for a better life in the UK has been named one of the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire in west London, the UK-based Syria Solidarity Campaign said Thursday.
An outpouring of heart-wrenching messages from London’s Syrian community mourned the death of Mohammad Al-Hajali, 23, a civil engineering student at the University of West London.
At least 17 people have been confirmed dead in Wednesday’s blaze in the 24-story tower, and that number is likely to rise, officials said.
The student arrived in the UK four years ago after fleeing his home in Daraa, Syria, and crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey.
“A Syrian refugee in the UK, Mohammed passed away in the Grenfell Tower fire yesterday,” the campaign said in a Facebook post Thursday. “We are heartbroken for his family, who thought he had found safety in the UK.”
Abdullah Hourani, co-founder of the Syria Solidarity Campaign and a friend of Al-Hajali’s, told CNN that the young man’s death sent shockwaves through the community.
“He left Syria to have a nice life, a new life in the UK. He was hoping to be safe here, but he wasn’t. It’s horrible,” Hourani said.
Mohammad and his brother Omar, 25, a student at Westminster Business School, lived together in a 14th-floor apartment in Grenfell Tower. The brothers were separated as they tried to escape the building during the fire early Wednesday.
After being overwhelmed by smoke, Mohammad was forced to return to the apartment, where he called family and friends to say goodbye, Hourani said.
“He was on the phone with his brother, who survived, until 5 a.m. … The last thing he said was that ‘the fire is coming inside, I will die,’ ” Hourani said, choking up. “And he called one of his friends to pass the news to his family in Syria, to tell them he loved them. He tried calling but couldn’t reach them.”
Hourani said the older brother was due to be released from King’s College Hospital on Thursday.
“He’s physically OK, but I can’t describe what he’s feeling. It’s so hard.”
The brothers were active members of the Syrian diaspora in London, frequently participating in fund-raising and charity work to help fellow refugees.
“Mohammad was always one of the first to offer his help,” Hourani recalled.
Mirna Suleiman left a message for her friend on a community wall outside Grenfell Tower: “You are in our hearts Mohammad Alhajali, wherever you may be.”
Suleiman told CNN she wrote the message Wednesday night when she still had hope he would be found alive.
She searched frantically for information about his whereabouts Wednesday, calling all the local hospitals and rescue centers.
On Thursday, Suleiman posted a Facebook message paying tribute to him: “This beautiful soul was lost today…His story touched me personally because he had escaped death from Syria and came to the UK to find a new life. But God had bigger plans for him.”