When you’re awaiting deportation, it’s worse than being in prison...

I have no bank account so I rely on those vouchers.  I use it to buy baby clothes and food.  I don’t see any charity helping in the way that HHUGS does.

Twenty years ago, fearing persecution and hoping for a better life, Imad fled Algeria for the UK. There, having sought asylum, his heart was soon at rest; for the first time in his life he could look forward to the future without fear.

One day, however, that ease was shattered when he was arrested in the mosque.

“When I came to Britain I thought there was freedom here and I wanted to live a normal life but I fell into oppression just as I did in Algeria, it was exactly the same. It was a big shock.”

Imad kept reassuring himself that there had been some kind of mistake and that he would be released soon. But the days turned to months, and Imad found himself charged and awaiting trial. He consoled himself that he would prove his innocence in court and be allowed to walk free.

During those long months, and facing the wrath of the prison system, Imad was anxious to speak to his family in Algeria, to inform them and reassure them that he was okay. But because his mum did not own a phone, she remained in the dark, without any word from her son. Eventually the news of his detention reached her…

“I felt hopeless. I tried to contact my family but I couldn’t because they don’t have a phone. My mum would normally travel two miles to my aunt’s home and use her phone so that we could speak. Finally, after months a neighbour from the UK contacted my family to let them know what happened and my mum had a heart attack from the shock following the news of my arrest.”

Devastated, Imad was in desperate need of comfort. He had hoped that friends would visit him in prison because he had no family in the UK, but the fear of being associated with him crippled them. Refusing his requests, Imad was left in complete isolation from the outside world with no one to call and no one coming to see him.

“When I was in prison, for sure I had no visitors. I just had my lawyer, everyone else was scared”.

Finally, the trial date arrived, but Imad was deprived of the opportunity to prove his innocence; after realising the weakness of the case, the judge dropped the charges, allowing Imad to walk free.

“I was released after a few days .We had been patient, waiting for relief. With du’a (prayers), Allah facilitated a way out for us and we were freed from any accusation. I believe it was the du’a from our mothers and fathers”.

Just two weeks later, as he walked to the mosque for fajr prayer, he saw two police vans coming towards him. Twelve police officers stormed out, forcing him to the ground as they handcuffed him.

“They put me onto the floor, holding me down for 10 minutes. One put his knee in my back. It felt as if he was going to break my back so I began shouting, and that’s when they put a gun to my head. I was in shock.”

Imad was now held under SIAC as a threat to national security, on the basis of secret evidence which he could never see, let alone challenge. The next ten years of his life would follow a pattern of arrest and release, without any charge laid against him, without him ever been found guilty of a crime. He remained in a high security prison, isolated from the rest of the prison population, under the threat of deportation to Algeria, fearing a life of further detention and torture there. Five months after his arrest, when he was released on bail, he was subject to draconian living conditions, the smallest breach of which would mean his incarceration. .

Needing a place to stay to facilitate his release, he expected someone in the Muslim community to come forward, but his calls were met with silence. He waited in prison, praying that someone would offer their help. Finally, it was a non-Muslim campaigner working with a local support group who stepped forward, with full faith in his innocence, and allowed him to live in her home. She would tolerate the constant police visits and checks alongside Imad, standing strong besides him as he endured one of the most difficult ordeals of his life.

“When you’re awaiting deportation, it’s worse than being in prison because they can send you back to Algeria where you might face a death penalty or life in prison. When you’re not British it isn’t easy. I waited all of that time for freedom only to be placed under SIAC.  I stay in this address, sign in at the police station for three and a half years every day. They put a tag on my foot which meant I was constantly monitored… where you’re coming from and where you’re going to, all the places you travel. At the beginning I was happy that I had left prison, but after some time I was stressed again. I was only allowed out for an hour; if you were late, then they will start court proceedings again, even if it was two or three minutes. That happened to me a few times, I was arrested more than seven times and taken to court for minor issues.”

With no family or friends in the UK, the excruciating loneliness made Imad yearn for a companion. But the conditions imposed by the Home Office and his inability to work meant that he would constantly be prevented from moving forward in life.

“I was living on the Home Office payments which where £36 a week, which is nothing. Life wasn’t easy. The tag prevents you from marriage. Three sisters refused to marry me because of it.”

The constant fear of arrest, the crippling conditions on Imad and his inability to achieve anything in life took a devastating toll on him. Suffering extreme mood swings and overwhelmed with paranoia, he was driven to the point where life did not seem worth living.

“I feel like I was going mad, I was really depressed, I couldn’t sleep, when I slept I would wake up screaming. When I was outside I would think people are watching me or that people were out to kill me. I was scared I was being followed, I thought if there was another terrorist attack then I would be blamed for it and be arrested. I couldn’t sleep because I would be waiting for them to take me.”

HHUGS heard about Imad’s situation, and began reaching out to offer a helping hand, but he constantly refused, insisting that there were other people in greater need than himself.

“I said I don’t want help, because they can give that help to someone who needs it more, maybe after three or four years of my situation, I accepted the help… my father said to me, never ask people to help you with money”.

While Imad was subject to SIAC, HHUGS arranged a foot rota so that he could enjoy warm meals. Without Imad having to say anything, they understood the depths of his loneliness and so provided emotional and social support from volunteers who would visit him. They sent him gifts on Eid and food packs of meat, rice and other essentials in Ramadhan and invited him to parties to quell his isolation on Eid.

“When I spoke to his [volunteer’s] family, when I ate dinner with them, it was like something new opened in my life. Since I have been here, I haven’t experienced what it’s like to sit with family. I swear they feel like my own family to me.”

After many years of legal limbo, Imad along with the other Algerians held under SIAC saw the deportation order dropped, the conditions lifted and so Imad was able to get married. Feeling reborn, and overwhelmed with joy, he exerted himself trying to do the best by his wife and eventually, their unborn child. But without the appropriate documents, Imad remained unable to work and so, Imad and his wife were soon struggling to make ends meet. That’s when HHUGS stepped in again, helping him to get back onto his own two feet.

We were about to have a child but we were living in a small hostel room, so HHUGS found a place for me to stay and paid for the rent. I remember that day, because we were in hospital and the baby had just been born but I had no place to go. The baby could have died if we had ended up on the streets, especially this time, the weather was so cold. It was big news for me when HHUGS called and said they had found somewhere, otherwise it would have been horrible for us”

Seeing that Imad was struggling to provide for his family, HHUGS began to assist him with rent, utility bills payments and food vouchers. When he had fallen into debt, HHUGS cleared that for him too.

I have no bank account so I rely on those vouchers.  I use it to buy baby clothes and food. I don’t see any charity helping in the way that HHUGS does.”

Imad is restless to start working and providing for his family, but until that’s possible, HHUGS will remain there for him, every step of the way.

“I just want to start working, I have accepted help from HHUGS for now but It will only be temporary, I want HHUGS to help people in more need than me.

HHUGS were like a Rahma (mercy) for me, like love – the love you receive from your family.”