Left homeless and scared by riots, Londoners seek aid
Traumatised after a baying mob burned down their flat in Tottenham, the epicentre of England's riots, the Malik family are living on handouts as they try to rebuild their lives.
Omar Malik, 47, and his wife Barbara Bereda-Malik, 45, are living in a hotel and relying on an emergency centre set up at the Tottenham Green Leisure Centre, seeking help for themselves and their son Oscar, five.
But the pain is still raw.
"We just saw hundreds of youths smashing windows and buildings. They were throwing tyres into buildings to intensify the fire," Omar Malik said as he revisited the ruins of his home, which have now been demolished.
"When we were inside Barbara shouted out of the window and said 'there's children living here" and basically one of the rioters looked up and gave Barbara the middle finger.'"
The riots erupted in Tottenham on Saturday following an initially peaceful protest against the death of local man Mark Duggan, 29, in a police shooting.
But within hours mobs had taken to the streets, burning cars, a double decker bus and, eventually the Maliks' home, one of 26 flats above a carpet showroom in a once-proud 1930s-era building on Tottenham High Road.
"Twice I called the police and they basically said forget about it. We were left to die by the emergency services," he said.
Omar, who works for a local taxi service, said they lost everything in the home, which they part-owned through a local housing scheme and had lived in for eight years.
The burned-out shell of the buildings became a symbol of the violence.
"It was my son's first home, he is five and a half years old now, he is still asking about his toys and his computer that we bought him recently," he said.
"A lot of memories and all our history, gone, all our photographs from our wedding, when we were young, all our belongings, all gone.
"We basically ran out with the clothes on our backs and we don't even have personal identification."
His wife, who is originally from Poland and works as a teaching assistant at a primary school, said they now wanted to move away from the area.
"I am feeling terrified to come back here. I could feel that my neighbours and my neighbours' teenagers had done this. How could I socialise or come back safely?" she said.
Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday promised full compensation for all those who lost property in the riots, which spread from Tottenham across London and then to other cities including Birmingham and Manchester.
Before the compensation scheme gets away, however, communities are bearing the strain of looking after the homeless.
Dozens of local people queued up to donate food and clothing at the Tottenham Green Leisure Centre this week, while local supermarkets and a chain of sandwich shops also helped.
Sima Khiroya, from the housing services office of Haringey Council, which covers Tottenham, said they were using an emergency plan originally drawn up for the 2012 London Olympics to deal with the problem.
"With the Olympics approaching we wanted to have all our emergency places ready and actionable as soon as we could," she said of the plan for the emergency centre.
They can pick up toiletries and non-perishable food. Also on offer are advice on the law, insurance and finance from housing workers and social workers.
"We have had a lot of housing advice, homeless people coming in and they are currently in temporary accommodation or hotels and just asking general advice on the situation and where they are moving on to next," she said.
The riots have threatened to rip the heart out of Tottenham, an ethnically diverse but deprived urban area best known for its English Premier League football club Tottenham Hotspur.
But Claire Kober, the leader of Haringey Council, said the support for the emergency centre showed it could rebuild.
"People feel very disheartened that there are images beamed around the world showing Tottenham in a very negative light," she said.
"Actually this is a heavily diverse community and a community where people look out for each other and care for each other."
© 2011 AFP