x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Sharjah fire families given compensation

A generous offer from the Ruler of Sharjah to residents of an apartment block that was gutted by fire has turned despair into optimism.

Standing in what was his bedroom Dove Ifeanyi estimates he lost Dh200,000 in cash and belongings.
Standing in what was his bedroom Dove Ifeanyi estimates he lost Dh200,000 in cash and belongings.

SHARJAH // They may have lost their homes and possessions but tenants of a tower block gutted by fire say they have good reason to be cheerful.

Sharjah Charity International began contacting the building's former inhabitants yesterday to organise the Dh50,000 promised to each family by Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed, the emirate's Ruler, on Saturday.

The fire broke out in the 25-storey Al Baker Tower 4 in Sharjah's Al Taawun area almost two weeks ago, leaving about 125 families homeless.

Tenants faced uncertain futures, with reports that landlords in nearby locations had increased their rent to capitalise on their desperation.

But that uncertainty appears to be at an end now the offers of compensation are coming in.

Mirrat Abdul Rauf was one of those whose lives were left in pieces by the fire.

"I really need help," Mr Abdul Rauf said. "My family is still staying with my cousin in a one-bedroom flat but it's a big inconvenience. [My cousin] occupies the bedroom and [my family] the sitting room."

"It's very congested and I feel very bad whenever I get there. I have been trying to get back my cheques from Al Baker real estate so that I can deposit them somewhere else but they are not releasing them yet.

"They say they have another building and we should sign their contract and move in but it's not comparable to where we lived before."

Mr Abdul Rauf said his mood was lifted greatly by a call from the charity, which asked for his tenancy contract and a copy of his passport. "I have already provided them with these and they promised they would be in touch," he said.

Another tenant, Tariq Al Ghazi, said he was "grateful and excited that help is on the way".

But for others, there was still uncertainty.

Samsul Alam said he was forced to borrow from relatives and friends to pay a deposit on a new flat for him and his wife, their one-year-old daughter and his pregnant sister.

Mr Alam's family moved in on Saturday but they have no possessions with which to fill the flat. Yesterday, they were still waiting for a call.

"We are still struggling to cope," he said. "You know, we lost everything and our new flat is nearly empty, just mattresses to sleep and cover ourselves. If we get this money from the Ruler we can buy furniture."

Ifeanyi Dove said he had noticed a missed call from a Sharjah office number. When he mentioned this to friends they said it was probably an offer of help from the Ruler's office.

"I have tried to call back the number but no one is responding and it looks like it is blocked," Mr Dove said. "I don't know what to do now so that I don't miss out. If I knew where the Ruler's office is I would go there now."

Andy Swaib, another former tenant, said the Ruler had been generous and supportive from the day his family was made homeless.

"We could hear he instructed the Sharjah charity to come and help us, give us accommodation, and now he is offering us a hand with cash to find new homes," he said. "The amount he is offering is just enough to rent another similar building for a year, but I would use it to pay three months and use the rest to buy the items I lost in the previous building."

Khalifa Al Tunaiji, the director of the housing department in Sharjah, said it was taking steps to help those affected as soon as possible.

Mr Al Tunaiji said the charity would coordinate the efforts and aid would be prioritised.

"Priority has to be given to those tenants of the behind blocks that were completely gutted and they lost everything," he said.

The Sharjah Investment and Development Authority and Al Qasba Development Authority also launched a campaign for affected families, inviting donors to contribute.

Contributions such as clothes, electronics, furniture and food that have been collected so far are being distributed among the former tenants.

A police spokesman said investigations into the fire were continuing.