Like so many women Halima came to the UK from Pakistan when she got married. For a better life, she had thought, as she took the leap of faith and moved here. Her English was basic and she relied on her European husband to assist her. They were already struggling financially and had to stay in a small hostel until they could be housed. One night, as she sat in her hostel she watched her children as dawn set in. Yes, things were far from ideal, but Halima was safe and under the protection of her beloved husband. In fact, Allah had blessed Halima with her second baby girl just a month before. Halima watched her husband as he prayed the dawn prayer when suddenly there was a heavy knocking on the door.
Halima startled, staring at her husband as countless officers poured into her room; he was still praying when he was handcuffed. The hostel became a blur and all she could hear were the screams which ensued: ‘you are a national security threat!’, ‘you will be deported!’ ‘But why?!’ shouted Halima, as she awoke from her shock. But before she could say anything else her husband was taken and Halima was left, shaken, alone and afraid – what would she do now?
“That was the worst time of my life.”
All of their income and benefits were in Halima’s husband’s name, so when his bank account was frozen and closed down, Halima was unable to access their income or the small amount of savings her husband had accumulated. Halima was already feeling confused and struggled with understanding how everything worked when debt letters began to pile up, demanding payment for the unpaid bills. Halima was desperate for her husband’s guidance but it was an entire month before Halima got to speak to him on the phone and three long months in total before she was able to see him. Feeling alone without her husband, Halima continued for hope for his release so that her nightmare would end but she was met with the worst possible newsâ€¦
“My husband was in limbo, they weren’t putting him on trial and they weren’t letting him go. Then they decided to deport him, which put me in a bad position because neither me nor my kids had [British] nationality.”
Halima’s entitlement to benefits were dependent upon her husband being a European citizen. Although news of her husband’s deportation was a devastating blow to the family, it also meant that Halima’s entitlement to benefits had been lost. Without housing benefit, Halima along with her two children had to move in with her brother and his wife, who lived with six children of his own and her elderly mother. Eight children and four adults were now squeezed into a small two bedroom flat, leaving Halima in appalling conditions and surviving on the bare minimum. Unsurprisingly, tensions rose and arguments often broke out, making life even more difficult for Halima. Meanwhile, Halima continued desperately seeking council housing so that she could move to a more humane living space, but when she was finally moved, she was unable to pay for the rent, bills or even food.
“Eventually, the council gave us a house but they wanted me to pay for half of the rent, the bills etc which I couldn’t pay because I had no incomeâ€¦ It wasn’t legal for me to workâ€¦ I was very depressed.”
Halima’s daughter had suffered from epilepsy before but the stress of her father being away from her exacerbated the health of this vulnerable, two year old girl.
“We were at Belmarsh talking to my husband and I started screaming because she was having fitsâ€¦ whenever I took her to prison she was grabbing her dad’s hand and saying, ‘let’s go. Why are you here?”
As the years of struggle and hardship continued, the lives of Halima’s once innocent and happy children were plagued with darkness. Although they did not know the truth behind their father’s absence, trauma was manifesting itself in their behaviour.
“My daughterâ€¦she couldn’t talk at that time but she was disturbed, even recently she sent her father a message saying, ‘I wish you never left me’. One day, I remember they asked me to buy something and I said, ‘don’t worry, I will buy it soon’ and she became crazy and said, ‘why did you say ‘soon’?! This is a bad word!’ I asked her why, and she said, ‘Dad said he will come soon and he never came.’ She demanded I never use the word ‘soon’ againâ€¦ I’ll never forget her words, “They gave me a life sentence – I got the life sentence.”
The emotional and psychological impact began to take its toll on Halima. With no one to turn to, she was living some of the darkest days of her life. One day, as she sat thinking about her financial situation, her husband’s deportation and her family’s uncertain future, a thought occurred to her: “Kill yourselfâ€¦ why do you want to live in this world?”
In utter despair, she took hold of the Quran and opened it up at any random page-
“The first verse that came in front of my eyes was, ‘Do not kill your children for fear of poverty; it is We Who provide for them as well as for you.’ I was shocked and surprised… Allah had answered me.”
Finally, Halima was contacted by HHUGS and things began to get better. After hearing about her situation HHUGS immediately sent Halima an emergency voucher and after conducting a financial assessment, approved monthly vouchers so she had the means to provide food for her daughters. Without benefits, it was impossible for Halima to pay her bills, council tax or rent so HHUGS paid these for her and topped up her gas and electric card to ensure Halima and her daughters were safe from the cold.
“HHUGS were paying for my bills and my rent. I think if HHUGS were not there I wouldn’t be alive right now.”
Most importantly, HHUGS provided Halima with emotional support. Despite appeals over the years for local volunteers, the nearest support worker HHUGS could find was based 32 miles away. Despite this, she would regularly call Halima to see how she was doing. HHUGS would bring her Qurbani meat and gifts on Ramadan to remind her that she was not alone during these times. HHUGS helped Halima with transportation to prison visits and paid for her driver so that she could attend her husband’s hearings. As a single mother, HHUGS knew Halima would need practical help with her children and so they arranged for someone to help with school runs.
“After Allah, HHUGS, they helped me. They always called me to see how I was. If you want to put my family on the same scale as HHUGS it would be the same, my family didn’t do more and HHUGS didn’t do less rather, they were helping together.”
Halima wanted to become independent but needed HHUGS support to get there. So HHUGS paid for Halima’s driving lessons so that she no longer needed help with school runs. Despite the odds, Halima fought to become self-sufficient, she was given derivative rights which means she is able to work. She managed to improve her English dramatically and get a job as a cleaner where she took on as many hours as she was able to manage.
“HHUGS is the only thing helping. It’s like HHUGS can feel my pain. I am so happy with them.”
Halima is now an independent mother, no longer in need of HHUGS assistance, working, driving and setting an incredible example to her two young daughters and other women in her situation. After her husband’s deportation, their relationship crumbled and he eventually divorced her, but Halima is now in a better place, spiritually and mentally stronger and better equipped to deal with the challenges she may encounter in future. HHUGS remain in touch with Halima, to make sure she’s okay and to reassure her that they are always there, just in case she needs it.
“They never forget me, they always remember me; always. I was just telling my mum that I have always has no doubt in my mind that they can do anything for me. This sister (from HHUGS) told me that Allah is always there and HHUGS will always be there for youâ€¦ whenever I’m in trouble I think there will always be someone there to help me. They will always chase you and you don’t need to call them, they will call you and when you tell them your problems, they help.”
“People who donate are doing a really good thing, they are really helping and they have no idea how much people need itâ€¦ People who are financially sound and can help; rather than sending their zakat and other money somewhere else, they should send it to HHUGS as I am a witness to the help HHUGS give, which I have received and am still receiving from HHUGSâ€¦ I will pray for the rest of my life for all those people who helped me from HHUGS. May Allah Subhanahu wa ta’ala grant all of you happiness and help you all in this dunya, Ameen.”