Photos courtesy of the Soffe family
Six-month-old Irish expat Elizabeth Soffe is facing her 13th operation to treat serious burns she received in a fire at her villa in Qatar, her father has told Doha News.
Elizabeth is receiving treatment at Birmingham Children’s Hospital in the UK, where she remains on a ventilator and has seven different IV lines providing sedatives, pain medicine and antibiotics.
As she prepares to undergo surgery today, her father Liam Soffe said that it is “impossible to know” how many more operations lie ahead:
“She will need many more over the next few weeks and as she grows up she will need constant visits to the doctors here to ascertain the need for more surgeries. Other children in similar positions have had well over 100 surgeries,” he said.
The family, which earlier this month urged fellow Qatar residents to double-check electrical outlets in their homes, said their situation has been exacerbated by a lack of contact and support from their landlord.
On Thursday, May 29, Elizabeth had been napping in a cot directly underneath an air-conditioning unit at her family’s rented villa in a popular compound – Beverly Hills 7, which is owned by Al Asmakh.
An official Civil Defense report about the exact cause of the fire is pending, but it appeared that the AC unit had caught fire, which spread to the baby’s cot.
Elizabeth suffered severe burns on 60 percent of her body, and doctors at Hamad Hospital advised the family to seek specialist treatment overseas.
Following assistance from the Qatari government and the Irish Embassy in Abu Dhabi a place was eventually found for Elizabeth at the specialist pediatric burns unit at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
In a statement sent to Doha News, the Soffe family told us that they wanted to express their “deep appreciation” to the Qatari government for their help, and for help given by other groups and individuals in Doha.
Lack of support from landlord
However, the family has told Doha News that the same cannot be said for their Beverly Hills 7 landlord Al Asmakh, whose actions have made “a very grim situation even more unbearable than it already is.”
The family state that their rent for June and the deposit on their villa have not been returned by the company, and that the temporary accommodation provided to house their three other children after the fire was withdrawn earlier than promised.
They also said that they have received no communication from the company or details about the company’s insurance, despite repeated attempts to get in touch.
Speaking to Doha News earlier this month, Al Asmakh General Manager Fadi Barakeh pledged to send a statement in response to the family’s allegations. But 10 days later, no official response has been issued.
However, during a phone conversation, Barakeh said that his company offered temporary accommodation to the family, and had worked hard to return the villa to a habitable standard so that the Soffes could move back in as soon as possible.
He also said that the June rent had been taken in error as the check had already been presented to the bank, and that it had not been returned because the individual nominated by the family to deal with the company had not come to collect it.
He added that the company was prepared to offer the family financial support if they needed it.
In response, the Soffe family sent us this statement:
“Frankly, we are gobsmacked that Al Asmakh can describe the house as being fit for human habitation. As of three days ago, there were no upstairs windows in the property – and there were loose electrical wires trailing up the outside carport and right through the villa itself.
It is totally disingenuous for Al Asmakh to claim they have tried to return the rent to the family. The simple fact of the matter is that two family friends repeatedly tried to get this issue resolved for more than a fortnight.
They have tried to make it as awkward and inconvenient as possible by insisting that the family’s nominated representative must collect the money in person. Why can’t they simply return the money to the bank account that they took it from in the first place or send the cheques to the nominated representative?
We also take particular exception to Fadi Barakeh’s remarks about making an unspecified contribution to the fund set up to help pay for Elizabeth’s future care. There is still no sign any contribution on the company’s behalf.”
The family state that Al Asmakh evicted their relative and three other children from temporary accommodation seven days after the fire.
They claim that the Beverly Hills Al Rayyan compound manager told them that they had to leave their loaned apartment as new tenants were moving in, and that they were offered no alternative accommodation.
Finally, the family allege that they had called compound maintenance to fix the air-conditioning unit in question just 12 days before the fire, because it had been leaking water.
In addition, they state that they had sent at least 10 emails to Al Asmakh about various maintenance issues with their villa, including a problem with their electric cooker, which they claim was still faulty after a technician had visited.
The company has not responded to a request for comment on these specific issues.
The Soffe family remains concerned about funding Elizabeth’s care, as her Irish nationality means that she does not qualify for free healthcare in the UK. They believe their insurance coverage, which is currently paying the bills, may soon cease.
The Soffes are also facing significant travel costs, and accommodation costs during what is likely to be a lengthy stay in Birmingham.
In response, family members have set up a charitable fund designed to meet these needs, so far raising nearly £40,000 (QAR247,921).
Family friends in Qatar also recently held a successful charity fundraising night at the Doha Rugby Club, which is planning additional events in the coming months.
Speaking to Doha News, Sinead Soffe said:
“It was amazing to see photos of my friends all wearing t-shirts with Elizabeth’s face on them (at the event). Very humbling.”
Anyone wishing to make a donation to the fund can find out more here.
Al Asmakh property does not care about opinion or safety of the villa residents. In Beverly Hills 3, they have recently started installing shops converting the villas into commercial units without even notifying the tenants as if they don’t exist. When these villas were rented people agreed to rent them based on certain criteria and suddenly Al Asmakh is changing them without any consent from the tenants or even notifying them. Suddenly its a heavy construction area with children playing around. They are getting so greedy.
I sympathize with this family about the terrible situation they are in. This little baby was sleeping in the crib which is supposed to be the safest place on earth for the baby. I have to state that the quality of works in these villas are questionable. Sometimes cigarette smokes come thru the AC vents that is probably shared with the next villa into the children’s room and when contacted Al Asmakh they did not solve the problem. The guy that came in to address this had no clue where to look for the problem. Now I am extremely concerned about the safety of all the AC units.
This is so terrible, best wishes to baby Elisabeth. In my past dealings with Asmakh (luckily not a tragic event such as this) I have found them to be very rude, unresponsive and arrogant.
To the many people who rent in Qatar the story of the landlord is sad and predictable. They want to squeeze as much money out of their tenants as possible, don’t care about safety or maintenance and try to steal deposit cheques or extra money when tenants leave in violation of Qatari law. After the contempt the convicted criminals in the Villagio trial treat the Qatar justice system do we expect the landlords here to behave any better? Of course not.
the number of A/Cs they have caught fire and caused fire in Qatar is far too high. Lack of proper maintenance is to blame.
My best wishes to the family and their child
A tragedy made worse by the facts that this was totally preventable and the punishment for those responsible will be minor (as the Villagio fire case has demonstrated).
Another example of what happens when you don’t pay people enough money or train them properly to ensure safety standards are adhered to. It also shows what happens when the people running the company just couldn’t care less and there’s no standards in place to ensure they do.
The picture of that cot has made my stomach turn. Poor, poor baby and poor family. My thoughts are truly with you and I pray that Elizabeth makes a swift recovery. I also hope that you get the compensation you deserve.
So wait… the parents knew the A/C wasn’t functioning properly (they submitted a maintenance request 12 days prior to the incident) but they continued to use the A/C, and they kept the baby’s cot beneath the A/C that was not functioning correctly. It seems to me that the Landlord isn’t the only one who needs to assume some of the responsibility.
Says a spokesman of Al Asmack. There has always got to be one hasn’t there.
The unit was seen to by maintenance workers, but it is believed to have broken down again on the day of the fire.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2666916/Mother-complained-air-conditioning-unit-caused-Qatar-villa-fire-blaze.html#ixzz3695cZVzS
So actually the only ones who need to assume responsibility KJD are Al Asmakh.
Are you serious? Like, really serious??? Well, well well… Do you have children? Do you live in Qatar where it is currently 44 degrees? Why am I even bothering to reply to you when I generally don’t bother with people who are heartless…
Yes, I do have children. And do you know what? I wouldn’t place their cot directly under an AC unit to start with as it wouldn’t be the best thing to have the cold air blowing directly on them. Secondly, due to the fact that I know AC units often catch fire here I certainly wouldn’t place my child’s cot beneath it. Thirdly, it’s very easy to move a child’s cot to another room with a properly functioning AC unit.
Firstly, as a parent I thought you might be just a little bit more sympathetic towards another parent and a horrific tragedy. But then being such a perfect and sensible parent yourself, why should you be?
Secondly, my daughters cot is the opposite end of the room to the AC unit and that still blows directly over her. I can’t get away from that as it happens in my bedroom also. So the only way I can get over that is by putting the cot directly underneath the unit. So in a situation like mine, what would you?
Thirdly, like someone already said, it had been fixed, or so she thought the day previous so didn’t see the need to move the cot to another room.
Well I certainly wouldn’t want a friend like you if something like this happened to me.
That’s alright, I wouldn’t want you as a friend either on a good day or a bad day.
dodged a bullet there
KJD – From Ashmak????
Who knows, who cares. Nothing worse than someone riding in on their high horse, making people who already feel bad enough feel hell of a lot worse just because they think they are entitled to opinion.
Who knows, who cares. Nothing worse than someone riding in on use high horse making comments that really don’t help a cause, just because they think they are entitled to their opinion.
Nothing worse than someone riding in on use high horse making comments that really don’t help a cause, just because they think they are entitled to their opinion.
couldnt agree more yet that is the norm in doha news
Seems to be unfortunately, Mohammed. But I think in this situation, it’s completely inappropriate. Some things you just keep to yourself!
@disqus_yO15E6uoob:disqus I woudn’t really pass any mind to what KJD has to offer, the only guarantees with them is that it’s ignorant, rude and generally heartless.they make a point of upsetting people.
I can’t say I’m surprised by Asmakhs response, it is predictable,and as always by certain peoples standards in Qatar,it is profit over people.I’m thinking of baby Elizabeth and her family during this nightmare..may it end soon for them.
You got it right, “Profit over people” that is the reason behind many and many of the problems we are facing here as expats.
@disqus_k3laZh7DWR:disqus your always on the other side of the fence, desperate to stand out from the crowd, no matter how upsetting, unreasonable or even inconsiderate your comments are..get a life!
Everyone has the right to their own opinion — including myself. You have the right not to read it.
Thanks DohaNews for letting us know how poor the services of Al Asmakh are. I am currently looking for a place to rent and AlAsmakh was high on my list. Not anymore.
Unfortunately, you will not find any of the other Agencies to be doing a better job either. They are all complacent and there is no competition, so this is what you get.
At another high-end compound with numerous locations, there was a “head electrician” who couldn’t have been more than 22 years old. I asked him one time how long he was practicing back home in the Philippines, and he said never- he was a painter back home….we then requested the qualifications for all maintenance men in the compound from the manager- he never responded to our request. This is why these things happen.
The electrician is usually the plumber, the carpenter, the brick layer and the machine repair guy as well. Not his fault he was riding a cow back home and was offer $200 a month to try and fix stuff.
My heart weeps fir the beautiful child and her parents…all prayers for her early recovery!! now I am worried since last two weeks our ac is leaking and despite being fixed I think there is still some problem…having toddlers at home now I need to be extra vigilant….
Given the oil & gas industry here and the many workers who I assume must work at these factories I was surprised Qatar is ill-equipped to deal with burns and the best that can be offered is to fly overseas once you have been burned. If an accident was to to happen on a largish scale, the best we can do is pop them on a plane to somewhere? If they mostly Indian do we just fly them to Delhi and give them back to the gov to look after? Is this really the best disaster planning we can come?
This poor wee girl. Unfortunately the law or lack there of, always favours the master in Qatar so I doubt there will be any consequence for the owner.
The landlords, the estate agents and the others involved should be held criminally responsible for this tragedy. They charge fancy and sky high rents for shoddy and badly maintained properties and then hide behind legal processes or just switch off their phones when tenants start running after them.
A lot of the landlords are also in the government so I can’t see that happening. If a Qatari Ambassador can be convicted of a serious crime, is still allowed to leave the country and still represent Qatar on the world stage what hope do you have against the landlords.
imagine if this tragedy happened to Asian girl …will Doha News and other media care about it ?!!
it is all about nationality …
Good on Doha News for naming and shaming Al Asmakh. Thoughts and prayers are with the family at this difficult time.
KJD- get a life! This could happen to anyone including you. When a fire starts, it can burn either one room or the whole house. There is no rule saying that A/Cs burn only whatever is under them. As long as landlords don’t care about safety rules and keep hiring unqualified staff to save on wages, accidents like this will keep happening.