In the Footsteps of Hajar – Umm Ilyas’ Story
Umm Ilyas, mother of three, was seven months pregnant when her husband was first detained in 2005. Eight years on, he has never been questioned, let alone charged or tried in this country. Since then, she has been forced to move several times and has suffered great financial and emotional stress. She narrates her harrowing ordeal in the following interview.
HHUGS: Tell us about the day your husband was taken away.
UI: In September 2005, only ten minutes after my husband and I prayed our Fajr Salah and returned to sleep, we heard a loud bang at the door. I screamed in my sleep, shouting, “Mum, they’re here!”
I had just come from Algeria, where there were problems and the police often visited our house. Upon hearing the loud noise, I thought I was back there and the police were attacking us!
My husband quickly went to the door and asked, “Who is it?”
“Open the door! It's the police!” they replied. He opened the door and they forcefully took him outside. I then put on my veil and took Ilyas with me, as he had also woken up. I was screaming and running behind the police.
HHUGS:How old was Ilyas?
UI:A year and a half.
HHUGS:And were you pregnant?
UI:Yes. I was seven months pregnant with Haroon.
HHUGS:What did you see when you got outside?
UI:There were many police officers taking my husband towards the middle of the lawn outside our house. I was screaming and shouting and then broke down into tears. Then they came to me and held me whilst a policewoman took Ilyas away. I held onto him tightly while she was trying to snatch him. When I saw my child crying, I realised that he was getting hurt and may be injured in the struggle, so I let go, as I did not want to hurt him.
After that, I fell unconscious and don't know what happened, until I woke up to find myself in a room (in the house) with my child.
HHUGS:What happened after regaining consciousness?
UI:The Police had called for an ambulance. When the paramedics arrived and saw me, they simply said, “You’re fine.” They left without checking me despite the fact I was seven months pregnant.
I woke up screaming trying to find my husband. There were policemen on either side of me and didn't let me move. My husband was then brought into the room but I wasn't allowed to talk to him at all. A coloured policeman informed me that he spoke a little Arabic. They then took some clothes and left.
HHUGS:What happened after they left?
UI:The police stayed with me at home. The strange thing is that they didn't touch anything in the house. Everyone that I’ve heard of who have been visited by the police has had their houses ransacked. Our house had been left alone and nothing had been touched. As they were taking my husband, he asked me to call his lawyer. I quickly got the phone and spoke to the lawyer. They left without taking anything although there was a computer etc.
In the following days not much happened and I stayed at home, I was living in a remote area named Ranford, which was mostly populated by English people and I couldn't drive or speak English at all. I stayed at home waiting with my child and didn't call anyone. After calling the lawyer, I explained to her what had happened.
HHUGS: Did nobody come to help you?
UI:No, not at that time. I didn't know any of the sisters except one, who came two or three days after the incident.
HHUGS: Did the police give you any information?
UI:All they said was, “We are from the Immigration Department and we have come to take your husband.” There was no mention of terrorism or anything else. I couldn't speak or understand English well at that time.
HHUGS: What did your husband do for the house?
UI:As I mentioned earlier, our area was predominantly English and we were quite far from the Muslim community. My husband had a car and he did everything. He used to take me shopping with him. He used to do the paperwork, pay the phone bills, gas etc.
HHUGS: After your husband was taken away how was Ilyas?
UI:Ilyas was very unstable and he often cried over the absence of his father.
HHUGS:Where did they take your husband?
UI:He was initially sent to Belmarsh and then transferred him to Long Lartin.
HHUGS:When was the first time you spoke to him after they took him?
UI:After a week. A sister came and took me to her house and there I had access to a phone and got the number cleared. He understood my situation well; I was very upset; I was pregnant, I couldn't speak English and I didn't know anyone. He was very worried about me and our child. Another problem was that after three days or so, some people came to my house that I didn't know and they wanted me to leave the house. I immediately called the lawyer. I was very nervous and felt intimidated. They took my husband and now wanted to kick me out of my house! I didn't have any official permit to be in the UK so I had to apply for asylum. There was a lot on my mind at that time.
HHUGS: Did you leave the house? Where did you go?
UI:Considering the fact that I was pregnant, they allowed me to apply for asylum at the home office after giving birth, and then they would look into providing a place to stay etc. They waited until I gave birth.
HHUGS: What did you do after Haroon was born?
UI: I was put on notice to leave the premises. Fifteen days after Haroon was born, I went to the Home Office to seek asylum. It was a very difficult and stressful time and I was worried about whether I would be granted asylum or if they would decide to deport me to Algeria. I was dreading going back to Algeria because of my husband’s case and being harassed there because of it. It was an extremely stressful time for my family and me.
HHUGS: Did you have anyone to talk to during this difficult period?
UI:I was in London and although my brother was in Manchester, it was difficult for him to visit me often as he was working. Despite this, he did visit me twice. My husband's family didn't know what had happened nor did I inform my own family. I didn't have any friends at that time either.
HHUGS:How did you manage at this time where you had no friends and nobody to talk to?
UI:It was a very difficult time for me and Ilyas. After I was put on notice to leave the house, I didn't have anywhere to go. The lawyer asked me to find a place to stay temporarily until I was provided with a home. Although the lawyer and a charity had been trying, they couldn't find me a place to stay. Before I was put on notice to leave, people from the home office came to my house without any prior notice. They must have sent a notice but I couldn't read English and nobody came to my house to help read the letters for me. They told me that they had come to take me to another house. I started to cry and didn't know what to do. I then called the lawyer who spoke to them and asked them to give me some time to prepare. Alhamdulillah they agreed.
Following this I stayed with a sister for two months.
HHUGS:Which city was this in?
UI:It was in London. I had some problems with the sister and was told to leave the house so I went to live with another sister and stayed with her for a month. Nowadays, even a month is a lot for anyone. I then asked the Home Office to find me a solution. They took me to some people and told them that I don't have anywhere to go. I was sent to a hotel for a month, which was another disaster. It was dirty, there was no good food and the facilities were poor.
After a month at the hotel I was sent to Leeds. Despite me asking them to find a place in London, Manchester, or even Birmingham, they sent me to Leeds instead. It was a hilly area where there were no mosques, no shops and no Muslims. This was another disaster.
After three months in Leeds, with the help of lawyers who took photographs of the area, arguing that it is a bad place to live in and that it would be difficult for my children and I to get a lift to visit my husband from there, I was moved to Salford in Manchester. This place was slightly better, though I still had the same problems. There were no shops neighbouring the house, no Halal shops, no Muslims and the area was known for racism. I stayed there for two years and was then moved to another area after my lawyers got involved. Alhamdulillah this was a good area. Not only were there Muslims, it was a multicultural society and I found it to be much better.
Prior to this, after Haroon was born, I had a nervous breakdown. A health visitor came to see me and I was advised by my brother and my husband to talk to her about my problems so she may be able to help me. Unfortunately, they did some strange things. They changed my doctor without telling me, brought me a psychiatrist and prescribed a medicine that I had to take three times a day. It was a very high dose that I didn't quite understand at the time.
HHUGS: During the whole period, how did you manage to call your husband?
UI:When I was in London I called him from my landline. However, when I was moved around the country, I used my mobile phone. I then got in touch with HHUGS who helped me a lot. They often took me to visit my husband in prison and helped with my shopping etc.
HHUGS:Could you complain about your situation to your husband on the phone?
UI:Yes I told him about a few things… I didn't want to increase his stress and worries bearing in mind the situation he was in. He was very worried and under a lot of mental pressure because everything had happened so suddenly; He was imprisoned, I had to leave the house, seek asylum and problems with the sister. I had big problems with her. He was very upset about all these things.
HHUGS: Constantly moving around from place to place must have affected your children.
UI:Yes, Haroon was very young but Ilyas suffered the most. He had a sleeping disorder and generally looked upset and showed signs of anxiety. He was very young and couldn't understand what had happened. What he must have gone through when they took his father away in front of him and when they snatched him away from me? It must have affected him.
HHUGS: Were there any developments regarding your husband's case when you were moved?
UI:Yes. Following a number of rejected bail applications by his lawyers, he was finally released on bail without a guarantor because of the expected length of the case. He was released from prison about two months later and we then moved here in March/April 2007.
HHUGS:After he returned home was he completely free?
UI:A day before he was released, I got a call from the lawyers saying that the Police want to visit me and search the house. I agreed as I had already tidied the house. The police came the following morning and stayed till the evening. They carried out an extensive search and took a lot longer in my husband’s bedroom. They searched the room for 2-3 hours and took away some things too. They stayed for a long time. A policewoman speaking in English said to me “Be careful, they might put cameras in your house.” I didn't know about any of this. They must have put something in the bedroom because they were not even letting anyone including the children go upstairs.
HHUGS:Was your husband released on certain conditions?
UI:Yes, when they left the house a policewoman told me to “Mind the camera.” I didn't know things could get this complicated. I then went upstairs to find all the rooms as they should be except for my husband's room, which was a mess as they had overturned everything. When I saw the state of the room I was shocked and started to scream. Upon hearing this people from the immigrations department came upstairs and asked what was wrong. I said, “Just look at the state of this, look what they've don't to this room!” The immigrations officer simply replied “You can file a complaint if you wish”. Then they all left.
My husband was released and came home, but was banned from computers, mobile phones and visitors. He was allowed to go out for only two hours a day providing he didn't leave the area. Right from the beginning, from the very first day, there were strict conditions.
HHUGS: Can you tell us about the time when you first saw him upon his arrival.
UI:At the time, when he got close to the house, I rushed upstairs to get a camera. Unfortunately, due to the nervous breakdown I previously had, I was still on medication and amongst the side effects was that I'd start screaming when I got nervous. My husband came home to find me in this state. After greeting my husband, we couldn't sit for long as people from the immigrations department were waiting for him. They spent about two hours with him and put tag on him. They also installed devices in our home.
HHUGS:What was his reaction when he first saw his children? When he saw Haroon who was born in his absence.
UI:I often took the children to their father during visits so he had seen them before. He was sad to come home and see me in that state (shouting, being upset).
HHUGS:What happened after that?
UI:People from the immigrations department visited us during the week at any time. They would come during the day or night, whenever they felt like it. This had a psychological impact on me. I didn't know this was going to happen. I had heard of bail but knew little of how bad it would be for us and the impact it would have on our lives. I was waiting for some freedom but things just got worse, having an adverse effect on myself, my children and my husband.
HHUGS:How did the conditions set for your husband affect the family?
UI:The children were happy that their dad was now home and wanted to go out with him but these conditions just made it all so complicated. He couldn't take the children out except for two hours in the morning. The rest of the day he had to stay home. This affected the family because I had to do everything. He didn't even have a car for the two hours he was allowed out and couldn't have made it to the shopping centre in that time.
My husband must have felt freer in prison. They released him from one prison into another. Now, even, we were in a prison.
HHUGS: Were you managing the household?
UI:Yes, I did everything during that time. Soon after, a brother brought my husband a bicycle but two hours was just not enough to do anything even if he had a car. Half an hour to go and half an hour to return, what could he do in an hour?
HHUGS:What was your financial situation?
UI:From when they took my husband until I moved to Leeds, I had nothing. No income at all. Life was very difficult and dependent on a sister who helped me a little and on HHUGS who also helped me. I didn't have any source of income. My husband always worked and earned. After they took him, I had what was left over but even this finished after I had paid the gas and electricity bills. After this, I was depending on other people for a whole year! It was only after I moved to Leeds that I had a small income for my children.
HHUGS:Was this money enough?
UI:Praise be to Allah in all situations.
HHUGS:I know this would have been sufficient for your necessities but would you be left with any money after this so you could buy gifts or take your children out etc.?
UI:I couldn't really take them far, only to nearby parks etc. Alhamdulillah I had what was sufficient.
HHUGS: What about when your husband was released?
UI:The children were happy their father had been released but it was difficult. The children's money alone wasn't enough. Following my husband's return, I miscarried after around three months. I was already psychologically unstable but this made things worse than ever.
HHUGS: What happened to you after your husband came to live with you? After how long was he detained for the second time?
UI:I was four months pregnant with Umaimah. My husband was taken to court along with others. They went to London to a court hearing. I’m not sure of the correspondence between the Home Office and the court but the court made its decision in favour of my husband and decided he was innocent. I don't remember the reason why they had to go to court. However, a number of people were taken from the streets and among them was my husband. People were calling me asking if my husband was okay and I was very nervous. I told them that he is fine and that he is on his way home, I didn't know what was actually going on. After my husband came home at 9:00pm, people from the home office and the police barged into our house. They told my husband that they had come to take him. I didn't know what was happening and my husband had to tell me. Haroon was fast asleep and when I saw them rushing upstairs, I wanted to comfort Haroon so he would not be shocked. They held me by my hand and didn't let me go upstairs. I said, “Don't touch my child! I will go upstairs myself and pick him up with my own hands. Don't touch him!” They then folded my hands behind my back and I was screaming while someone went upstairs and brought Haroon.
HHUGS: Where was Ilyas?
UI:Ilyas was downstairs. They then took my husband and left us. I spoke to my solicitor and told her what had happened. I learnt that the brothers that were with my husband were also taken to prison. They were all taken from different places; some off the streets and some from home. It was as if they had been attacked by pirates.
HHUGS: Is he still in prison?
UI:No, the court ruled in his favour and ordered his release but the court order was not carried out and all the brothers who were with him were detained again. He called me the next day from the police station saying that he will be taken to London to SIAC (the Special Immigrations Appeals Tribunal). Ilyas was so terrified he stayed asleep from that time until my husband returned home.
My husband stayed in London for a day and returned after the judge ruled in his favour. Ilyas stayed asleep. Each time he woke up, he'd go back to sleep. My husband returned at night accompanied by people from the immigrations department. A woman from the immigrations department saw Ilyas and asked what was wrong with him. I told her he had been like this since the commotion made by people from the Home Office yesterday. There were five or seven of them and they were talking loudly. My brother was also at our house that night and Ilyas hadn't even moved. She then looked at him and said, “It seems like he isn't well”. Upon hearing this, my husband woke Ilyas up.
Since then, Haroon developed a disorder. He would wet himself day and night and now he has to go to the doctors for therapy. He was normal. For two years, he was always clean during the day and night, but this all changed after that incident.
HHUGS: How old is he now?
UI:He is six years old.
HHUGS: Did they take your husband again?
UI:Yes, last year in June 2011.
My husband often sought permission to be allowed to take the children to various places like the zoo etc. and it was usually granted to him. The times he was not allowed, he would appeal and be granted the permission. The last trip he took us on was to the seaside and we were visited upon our return that night (or maybe a few nights later).
They came regarding a problem with the tag. This was also normal for them to do as the tag would lose signal at times and they would change it every few months. This was something considered normal by them and us. However, when they left, they came again after fifteen days accompanied by the police. They alleged that he had tried to break the tag with his hands. I’m sorry to say this, but that was completely ridiculous. Even a child would know that a tag couldn’t be broken by hand. When they saw that there were no scratches or cracks on it, they claimed he wanted to break it by hand. How would he have been able to do that? What did they make it out of? It was as strong as metal. My husband always wears socks so his children don't touch the tag. This was just a made-up excuse to return him to prison.
HHUGS: Did they take him?
UI:Yes, they took him the same way they took him before; they took him in the evening.
HHUGS:How long has it been since then until now?
UI:It has been one year and a month.
HHUGS: And how are you coping with the children?
UI:It’s quite similar to before. The children are emotionally shattered and our lives have been destroyed without any reason whatsoever. The children missed their school for eight days because my husband used to take them in a car as the school was far.. The school was too far for me to take them. I then spoke to the headmistress and to a family who could help take my children to school. Alhamdulillah they helped me.
HHUGS:When was the first time you heard of HHUGS?
UI:I first heard of them in 2005 after my husband was detained. This is when they got in touch with me and helped me.
May Allah reward them. They helped me with visits to my husband, with shopping; they even helped me financially because I didn't have any money at that time. Every month I received shopping vouchers from them.
May Allah reward them immensely, their service was excellent and I was very happy with it.
HHUGS:Do you have a message for the people in the UK, whether they're Muslims or non-Muslims, regarding helping families in similar situations like yourself?
UI:I would like the Muslims especially to be aware that there are lots of people here in the UK who have been affected not only psychologically but also financially and that even a pound donated towards their cause really helps. If not donating financially, moral support also is a great help. For example, I had a problem of commuting to visit my husband in prison. There are other families in similar situations and they have children too. The children need to see their fathers. It would be good for them to help these people for the sake of Allah. If not financially then morally supporting them, so that the children can at least feel some happiness in seeing their fathers.
HHUGS:Would you like to convey a message to the people about supporting charities like HHUGS?
UI:Yes. HHUGS is not funded by the government and has very little resources. I ask all brothers & sisters to support and fund HHUGS because it is a great help to families like us. I urge them to provide moral and financial support so that HHUGS can keep helping others. HHUGS was the only solution to our problems. If people don't help HHUGS, families like us would be lost so we hope you contribute towards HHUGS financially. Various hardships and calamities are uplifted from a person who donates to a good cause. By donating to HHUGS we hope that HHUGS can have adequate funds to maintain their support for families like us.
HHUGS:What would you like to say finally?
UI:Generally, when people hear that a brother is in prison, they immediately think he is a criminal. There are many brothers who haven't done anything wrong. They have been labelled with the word 'terrorism'. I know a number of people personally who haven't done anything wrong in this country. The only reason for their terrible ordeals is that they are Muslims. This is the only reason they are detained. We are not criminals or so called terrorists, we are merely Muslims. Maybe some of them have problems in their own countries or maybe it’s just a test from Allah for them. By helping us, they are helping themselves and that's the way things are in this world. It is a test from Allah and everyone has their own problems. When a person helps his brother, Allah helps him.
HHUGS:May Allah reward you, thanks.
UI:May Allah bless you and reward you too. I ask Allah to fulfil our needs and yours.
To continue helping Umm Ilyas we need your support.
£20 for a driving lesson to help our sisters become self-sufficient
£40 for a counselling session to help them deal with the trauma they’ve experienced
£200 to provide them with shopping vouchers to support the family for the month