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'Death followed him': Syrian refugee among Grenfell Tower victims

Mohammed al-Haj Ali was trapped inside London flat for two hours after being separated from his brother during the inferno
Mohammed al-Haj Ali fled from Syria and settled in the UK in 2014. He remained in contact with his brother while trapped in Grenfell Tower by the fire (MEE/Abdullah Hourani)

A Syrian war refugee who escaped to Britain was the first victim to be named in the Grenfell Tower fire in London. 

Mohammed al-Haj Ali, 23, died after being separated from his brother, as they tried to escape the flames that engulfed the 24-storey tower block early on Wednesday. 

The announcement of Ali's death comes as the death toll rises to 17 as emergency services continue to search for survivors.

Ali was with his brother Omar, who lived on the 14th floor, as the smoke began to seep into his flat. 

They attempted to leave the building but Ali was overwhelmed by smoke and forced to return to the flat. 

'The smoke is getting in, the smoke is getting in, we are going to die, we are going to die'

- Mohammed al-Haj Ali's last words to his brother

His brother Omar was taken to hospital after escaping and remained in contact with Ali, who was still trapped inside the flat. 

"The smoke is getting in, the smoke is getting in, we are going to die, we are going to die," were Ali's last words to his brother. 

Friends who were close to the late refugee told Middle East Eye that he was in contact with them until 5am. 

Before dying, Ali asked his friends to tell his family in Damascus that he loves them. 

After leaving Syria, he had not seen his family for five years and was forced to limit communication to ensure their safety amid the crackdown against the opposition.

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali (pictured centre) with his brothers Omar (left) and Hashem (right) (MEE/Mirna Suleiman)

Ali, who was a civil engineering student at the University of West London, came to Britain in 2014.

Mirna Suleiman, who is a Syrian community worker and had close ties with Ali, told Middle East Eye that she had tried to help his family locate him. 

He came to Britain to study and start afresh, but death chased him all the way here to the UK

- Mirna Suleiman, Syrian community worker

"After finding out the news I was in hysterics because I knew how much he struggled to get to the UK," said Suleiman. 

"The fact that he choked to death is upsetting and completely despicable," Suleiman told MEE. "He came to Britain to study and start afresh, but death chased him all the way here to the UK."

Ali lived in Britain with Omar and Hashem, a third brother, who also came to Britain as a refugee, after fleeing Daraa, in southern Syria, three years ago. 

Omar is in a stable condition at King's College Hospital. 

Helped refugees

Abdullah Hourani, an activist with the Syrian Solidarity Campaign, told MEE that Ali was very active in the Syrian community. 

"Mohammed did a lot for refugees and people from all walks of life," Hourani told MEE. 

"It's just really sad, he left Syria running away from death and looking for a better life. But that didn't help him as death still followed him back to the UK."

The Syrian community will remember Ali at a special iftar gathering on Saturday that was originally organised to commemorate Jo Cox, an MP who was killed last year. 

Grenfell Tower, which is located in the Lancaster West Estate in West London, was home to 600 people.

More than 100 people are still missing and unaccounted for as the death toll continues to rise. 

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