“When I first became acquainted with some of the men held without charge or trial under the Anti-Terrorism Act 2001, I realised there was a desperate need to find support for their families. Their wives and children were completely isolated due to the detained men's hopeless circumstances. One Moroccan lady, who couldn't speak English, was on her own with her children for 6 months not even knowing where her husband was. Another wife was left without even the little money to buy a pint of milk. The wives quickly noticed that their friends had disappeared. Fear took over their communities and no one even wanted to acknowledge them in the street. Totally reliant on their husbands, some of these women had never left home on their own and so they became very depressed and lonely – the majority were eventually diagnosed with clinical depression. No one visited them and their children were without play friends. They were all in total despair. Many lost their means of support and their husbands could not do anything to help. The men were held in total isolation for 23 hours a day in Belmarsh High Security Prison and it took months for their wives and children to get visiting clearance. The men were also severely depressed and three of them were eventually committed to Broadmoor Hospital a state hospital for the criminally insane – despite neither being criminals nor insane. They were also diagnosed with clinical depression due to their isolation and understanding that they were to be detained indefinitely. They too had lost all hope. On a trip to London, I finally, through my Algerian hostess, met with some of the wives and we spent a wonderful day together despite few of us sharing a common language. I was surprised to discover that many of the women were not acquainted with other wives suffering in similar circumstances. That day, I gained an understanding of their culture and the many difficulties they faced particularly their problem finding transport to visit their husbands in Belmarsh due to their fear of using public transport on their own. Meanwhile I had been in email contact with Dr. Adnan Siddiqui and he had told me that there were many sisters more than willing to help the wives but needed an introduction to them.
Out of this contact the angel, Saiyeda and her volunteer sisters of Hhugs stepped forward. Hhugs phoned all the wives and gave them emotional support and, just as significant, practical support by organising transport to Belmarsh for the families. This overwhelming kindness raised everyone's spirits husbands and wives were reunited on a regular basis; the children saw their fathers again; they had the opportunity to discuss family problems and share a special few hours together.
I cannot find the words to describe the immediate impact of Hhugs' support. I think you have to stand in the shoes of these alienated people to understand the difference that Hhugs made to their lives. They finally knew that there were people who cared. Hhugs set up a support system recruiting more volunteers and word quickly got around to others in need. The magnificent Hhugs sisters put out their hands in friendship to all unconditionally. Hhugs started to raise money to continue their work there was so much need help with phone bills, food bills, transport costs, cots and bedding for new babies and the expenses of their volunteers. Through the years, Hhugs' work has expanded as sadly more and more Muslims are being imprisoned or held under control orders and immigration bail conditions. Hhugs eventually gained charitable status and brothers were recruited too. When my friends were eventually released in 2005 other problems came to light. Some of the men were single men and had particular difficulties. They were housed in dismal flats with little financial support and the bare minimum of necessities no phone, no bedding, no TV or radio to pass the lonely hours. Mustapha had no arms below his elbows yet he spent most of each day on his own and no one was allowed to enter his home without Home Office vetting.
Hhugs provided him with a specially adapted telephone and this allowed him contact with the outside world. Each evening a Hhugs sister arrived at his door and handed over a prepared meal. Hhugs continued to do this daily for over a year until Mustapha was returned to Algeria. Can you imagine the cost and organisation that went in to this one act of kindness? Yet this is just one story of hundreds I have heard over the years about Hhugs' generosity of spirit. There must be thousands of stories out there.
Hhugs grew wings and volunteers were found in Manchester, Leicester, Birmingham, Luton and other towns to help the people in need in these areas too. It became imperative to raise more and more money to achieve all that was asked of them. However, a value can't be put on the work of Hhugs. This unique charity gives hope where there is no hope; gives support when others turn their backs; are there in times of desperate need. £5 to pay for bus fares to attend the mosque for Friday prayers. The mosque is 3 miles away and cannot be reached on foot in the 2 hours my friend is allowed outside. £10 to buy a phone card for a single man to comfort his family in Algeria when his father died. £10 to buy halal meat for a family living on vouchers who have no choice where to shop. £20 to buy children's clothes for a family living on Tesco vouchers where the Tesco is a metro store in their designated boundary that does not sell clothing. £30 to provide a family with essential food provisions when they had gone without food over a weekend. £50 to buy a Moses basket for a distressed expectant mother who is denied access to her belongings as they are stored 200 miles away. I could go on and on as these are actual examples of Hhugs' assistance to desperate people who are shamed by their circumstances yet are powerless to change them. These families are intelligent, respectful, humourous and talented with a thirst for knowledge that their circumstances deny them the kind of people we would all want as friends yet few get the privilege to know. My life has been enhanced by my friendships with these lovely people. Hospitable brothers and sisters who, in a perfect world, would be the most charitable people themselves. However, in a perfect world we would not need Hhugs. Sadly, this is not a perfect world and the necessity for Hhugs will continue into the unknown future. To continue their work, Hhugs needs many more good people to get involved and donate to their charity which is in financial crisis and desperately needs money and fund raisers. Please open your hearts and your wallets for the sake of humanity.”
“The Sisters of Hhugs are bright flowers in the garden. I first heard about the dear sisters of Hhugs in 2004 when I was told that these Muslim sisters were willing to help the women whose husbands had been detained without charge or trial and held indefinitely in Belmarsh high security prison. On a trip to London, I had discovered that these wives were living in complete isolation and had no one to turn to apart from their own small community where there seemed to be so much suffering. Their stories were heartbreaking and they desperately need assistance. It was difficult for them to visit their husbands in prison. Their culture forbade them to travel with a man and they could not afford to visit the prison more than once a month. They hired a minibus for this trip. Hhugs stepped forward and offered the wives and children extra transport so many of the families then visited their husbands every two weeks and this made such a difference to their lives. They could visit their husbands more regularly and the detained men's mental health, which was on the verge of collapse, improved when they spend more time with their families.
Hhugs created so much happiness with this kind-hearted gesture. They helped start a letter campaign and the detained men began to receive supportive letters and, through their new acquaintances, had support on the outside when they were finally released. The men have told me since that these letters raised their spirits to the highest as many of them, until then, had no contact with the outside world since their imprisonment. Hhugs also visited the families and helped them with shopping trips and they offered financial assistance too. They did a thousand good deeds that I am unaware of but I know with certainty that the sisters who were my friends were overwhelmed with the kindness and solidarity from their sisters in Hhugs. When the men were eventually released in March 2005 under control orders, Hhugs work increased. The single men who lived on their own were particularly secluded and had little aid. Hhugs provided them with household items and financial support. Hhugs was there for them all when they were in most need and I don't know how the men would have coped without them. Hhugs highlighted the desperate situation of the men and their families and held fundraisers to continue their ever expanding work. As more and more Muslims were detained, their work continued to grow. People heard about them through word of mouth and asked for assistance too.
Hhugs started a branch in Manchester. When my Algerian friends were rearrested in August 2005 to be held for deportation to their countries of origin, Hhugs ensured that each wife who'd had their husbands cruelly taken from them and were terribly traumatised, had a sister from Hhugs for comfort and support that day. The men were imprisoned a long way from London and Hhugs helped with transport for the wives to visit and they also offered the petrol costs to anyone who had a car and were willing to drive the families to the prisons. Meanwhile, they continued to help the men and their families who remained under control orders. Some of the men were eventually released under house arrest and control orders and Hhugs immediately contacted them and offered their support. One single man under control orders has no arms below his elbows and due to his disability it was impossible for him to cook for himself. He was denied any social service help to receive cooked meals.
Hhugs came to the rescue once more and organised delivery of daily meals for him. They have provided meals every evening for this brother for the past seven months! He had a phone connection but because of the small amount of money he had to survive with, he could only afford to receive incoming calls. Again, Hhugs was magnificent and offered to pay the extra costs to allow him to make outgoing calls and they have generously continued to finance this. This brother had been out of contact with his family in Algeria since 2001 and, thanks to Hhugs, he was able to speak to his mum for the first time in all these years. The control orders forbid him to write letters abroad so you can imagine how much his spirits were lifted when he could speak to his family again. The phone took him out of his desperate isolation and it also provided the security he lacked in the past, to make phone calls when he needed help or when he felt lonely and wanted company. I can only speak about a very small part of the amazing work of Hhugs but I am aware that their generosity and kindness has filled the hearts of all of my friends and helped them survive the cruel injustices inflicted on them. They are comforted by the knowledge that they are not forgotten and that they have their sisters at Hhugs only a phone call away when they need them.
'What would we do without Hhugs?' is asked often and I honestly don't know the answer. If Hhugs had not stepped forward for my Muslim friends in their time of greatest need, I can say with certainty, that many of them would have lost all hope in humanity. And surely this is Hhugs' greatest gift? THE GIFT OF HOPE.”
Ann Alexander – http://www.sacc.org.uk/ – Scotland Against Criminalising Communities