“I could hear my husband being tortured in the next room. They used electricity on his genitals, concentrating their torture there. They tortured him beyond belief”.
This was the start of Ahmed’s ordeal, when he moved to the Middle East with his wife Fatima in June 2004. They had been staying at her uncle’s house when the house was attacked and both of them were so viciously assaulted that “the room turned red from the splattering of blood”, as Fatima vividly recalls. She was hit over the head, thrown to the floor and a dog set loose on her. The fact that she was four months pregnant at the time made no difference. Once they were taken to a secret location, her attackers focused their sadistic beatings and electric shocks on her stomach and told her they would kill her unborn child. This went on for sixteen days during which Fatima was not allowed to sleep. She was then released but Ahmed still remains detained and subject to torture and inhumane treatment to this day.
The couple underwent a tremendously cruel ordeal that involved distressing threats to be raped in front of her husband if Fatima did not confess to the accusations levelled against them. She was also forced to squat with her eyes covered and hands behind her back; at other times she was forced to balance on her feet for hours.
Undergoing such tortuous treatment, Fatima’s doctor anticipated that her child would be born abnormal; his fears tragically proved to be true:
“My daughter is now eight years old and is slow in her physical development, movement, walking, and speech. This is due to the torture she endured whilst in the womb.”
Surviving the Nightmare
Following Fatima’s release, she left the Middle East in 2006 for Europe, settling in the UK, but her husband remains in prison a decade later. Even when Fatima tried to visit her husband, she was refused on every occasion. In 2010 Ahmed eventually received a lengthy sentence, with the courts refusing to even hear the evidence in his defence. To date, Fatima continues to protest against every week against his detention. She explains his dire situation:
“Even today my husband is tortured and beaten and they have even tried to poison the prisoners by putting bleach in their food.He used to be in good health but now he suffers from high blood pressure, stomach and digestive problems, ulcers and an irritable bowel. He has prostate problems and is refused his medication. They feed him very poorly. Even animals can’t eat the food that is given to him.”
Upon hearing about both Fatima’s and her family’s plight, HHUGS felt compelled to retrieve her from her nightmare existence. Offering all the support needed for basic essentials, HHUGS first organised rotas for emergency food and provided monthly shopping vouchers.
“I didn’t know about HHUGS but ever since I contacted them they greeted me and started helping me immediately. When I first heard about HHUGS I was surprised to know people were going through the same thing, I was surprised people were willing to take on my needs and my case, I was shocked about how welcoming they were. When I first came here I didn’t know how to get around and do many things but with HHUGS I felt that I wasn’t alone anymore.”
The immediate financial relief had lifted a great burden of Fatima as she was finding it hard being able to provide well balanced meals for herself and daughter. In light of her daughter’s disability, HHUGS paid for her transport and later covered Fatima’s car insurance to make travelling around far easier on the small family. To help heal the deep wounds of her traumatic experiences, HHUGS ensured Fatima received professional counselling. This was very important for Fatima as it helped her regain confidence and offload her deep anxiety and stress. To help improve her English, HHUGS tried to source English classes to better equip her for life in the UK.
When Fatima moved, HHUGS found a guarantor for her new property and paid the deposit. As time passed, Fatima tried to find employment in teaching but her income was modest and failed to cover her basic needs. HHUGS stepped in to cover the shortfall in Fatima’s rent as she was unable to pay herself. HHUGS continue to provide Fatima with supermarket vouchers for food and clothing and with a utility bill card to help her pay her energy bills. HHUGS are paying off her arrears to save her from falling into further deficit.
HHUGS have arranged day trips and family retreats in order to take away Fatima’s stress and troubles. HHUGS have paid for both Fatima and her daughter’s Kickboxing classes, to relieve the mental stress of their daily trials and to help her improve her social development and to give her the time to have fun and enjoy herself.
“My daughter was really happy whenever they took us out on activities and days out, it felt like we had a family in the UK. When we were with them, it wasn’t like they were an organisation or some kind of aid group. You know, even though my English wasn’t strong, they would please me by acting like they understood what I was saying!My daughter really enjoys the kickboxing, as you know my daughter is ill so going to kick boxing makes her happy, she is always looking forward to it.”
At HHUGS, we feel it is vital for families to feel constantly loved and looked after. Sadly, one of the most difficult times of year for Fatima and other HHUGS families is during Ramadan and Eid. The reality of absent loved ones, of being isolated from the community and of simply not being able to afford to exchange gifts and buy new clothes all comes to the fore. To help families during this time HHUGS hold Eid parties during this religious celebration to bring them some joy. HHUGS also provide Fatima with Qurbani meat and gifts for Eid, to remind her she is remembered and supported by the community.
Throughout the rest of the year, HHUGS hold coffee mornings for families to meet up and have a chat. This gives Fatima a place where she can meet other sisters who know the pain of having a loved one in prison and to help take her mind of her troubles.
“Every Eid,there is a party and on Eid Al Adha I received Qurbani meat. They also have coffee mornings every month so I get to see the other sisters. The Eid parties and gatherings are nice because you get together with other families and it makes you realise it’s not only you going through that struggle, it’s not only me that is struggling. There are other husbands and sons that are going through what my husband is going through and other mothers and wives going through what I am going through. Here, they support each other. It makes me feel like I’m not alone.”
Although Fatima’s reality is still far removed from a fairy tale ending, HHUGS hopes to be able to continue bringing ease in her life so that she can secure a happier future for herself and her daughter. Fatima is hopeful that one day her husband will be released and reunited with his family.
Fatima encapsulated how she and her daughter feel about HHUGS in her parting words:
“It’s like they’re family, they are part of us and we are part of them”.