‘I I just want to tell the Muslim community, to ask them and beg them: we are just Muslims like you. We are not different from other Muslims.
Following the tumultuous civil war, which rocked Algeria during the late 90’s, Musa was imprisoned as a political prisoner. Scarred from the physical and mental torture at the hands of his captors, it was almost a decade before his release, seeking asylum thereafter in the UK.
Hoping for resettlement away from the problems of his past, Musa began to build his life from scratch, alone and without friends nor family. Following a few years of prosperity, integrating into the local community and working in one of London’s biggest mosques, Musa’s problems started anew. It was during preparation for Hajj in 2003, when he was first arrested, the consequent years have been hugely detrimental both to his physical and mental upkeep. Although he escaped his tortuous past abroad, constant arrests, over 15 years and life under house arrest have added to his mental and physical difficulties. This, coupled with the fact that all of his family were still in Algeria, meant Musa found himself isolated and traumatised.
At first Musa was detained for a week in police custody, before being charged and remanded in Belmarsh. What followed was the longest trial held in the UK at the time, spanning 27 months the outcome being his acquittal and release from custody. Already struggling with his pre-existing PTSD condition, the onslaught of stress accompanying his case, served only to exacerbate his anxiety.
‘Believe me, I am using five different medications now. I’m suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, paranoia, insomnia… everything you can imagine.’
Forced to pick up the pieces for a second time, Musa found himself homeless, battling his PTSD and without friends or family, he began living in a temporary accommodation provided for by the council. It was months before he could attempt to resettle into the community and getting engaged in the process. Sadly, this too would not last...
‘They come at 6 o’clock in the morning. They stormed the building and they broke all the doors… even the other residents’ doors. I was awakened only by the big bang on the room door as five or six officers threw me to the floor and held me down, face down to the floor, two of them stepping with their shoes on my hands.
‘They didn’t allow me to put any clothes, they held me down... I asked them for my medication, it was only on the table, next to the bed, but they refused to give me my medication. I started vomiting…’
The violent raids continued to aggravate Musa’s poor health to this very day. On prescription for multiple forms of medication, his physical health continued to deteriorate. Every day he battles not only PTSD but also Asthma and Epilepsy.
‘I can’t keep rebuilding this life, not even life, but what appears to be a life. I start to rebuild a little bit but every time they come and start to destroy everything … why should I do this again and again and again. In the end, I give up.’
Arrested under anti-terror legislation as a threat to national security, though never charged or questioned in this period; it was almost a year before he was released on bail under Special Immigration Status - pending deportation to Algeria. Harsh bail conditions were imposed upon him; restricting his access to the outside world. Further to confinement in his home for 20 hours a day, living on a meagre allowance insufficient for his basic needs, Musa was cut off from the outside world, being denied internet access and access to higher education, his only real hope of interacting with people and occupying himself.
‘I feel I’m living like a ghost...’
Life under SIAC bail took its toll, as the challenging regime under which Musa was forced to live, meant his engagement broke and he was bereft of the only pillar of emotional support he had.
‘We split up. She would have been subjected to all the same conditions, and she couldn’t live with all these conditions.’
Isolated and secluded from the community, visitors waned and Musa became increasingly alienated.
‘I’ll tell you that the two people who come to visit me frequently and have gone through the process of clearing are the two jurors in my case.
"And people from my community, when they hear the words Home Office, they run: they’re scared of the Home Office. It’s hard, making friends.”
Devoid of support and following multiple rearrests, Musa was, once again granted bail in 2011. The constant relocation and uprooting meant that Musa lacked a real sense of belonging and self-assurance.
‘My problem is my situation, I keep thinking about solutions to my problems, and I’m stuck. I feel like I can’t - I’m finished, I am tired, I have no will or power to go on like this.
Bereft of any means of financial and mental ease, HHUGS helped fill the void in his life. Offeringhelp in a multi-faceted manner, HHUGS has aided Musa, empowering him and increasing his confidence with both emotional and financial assistance including food vouchers, warm clothes in Winter, a bed to sleep on and a wardrobe for his possessions, allowing him to supplement his pitiful allowance from the government. HHUGS paid for his landline so he would be able to contact his family in Algeria, and for simple items like a TV license or papers, to help keep him occupied in his isolated existence. HHUGS paid for his oyster card, to allow him to break the monotony and isolation at home, so he could travel within his boundary. When he was able to travel further, and able to drive, HHUGS covered the costs of the related tax and insurance.
Contact with HHUGS staff and volunteers ensured that Musa had the opportunity to relieve his mental burdens, of which there were many. Communication with the wider community remained integral to empowering Musa, the quarantined lifestyle he lived seldom gave him access to visitors, hence the volunteers who called him were the closest to friends he had.
‘I don't think of HHUGS as an organisation, I think of them as my brothers and sisters, they are my only family in this country.’
Complementing the contact with volunteers was the chance for Musa to develop as an individual. HHUGS twice were willing to fund educational and vocational courses, to enhance both his skill set and confidence in himself. The courses were his only hope for a gateway to integrating within a community, as it facilitated the chance to communicate with other students and gaining skills which one day would allow him to provide for himself.
Alongside the essentials were the gifts Musa received, be they Qurbani meat, cupcakes or various Eid gifts, HHUGS have endeavoured to remind Musa that, despite his tribulations and isolation from the world… he has neither been abandoned nor forgotten.
‘You are the only ones who gave me something to cheer me up on Eid day.’
In May 2016, the deportation case against Musa and the other Algerians held under house arrest, was finally dropped. This meant that all restrictions once placed on him ceased including his curfew, boundary and tag. While the limitations are no longer in place, Musa still finds himself in an undesirable situation. With the government not allowing him to attain status in this country, Musa has no access to benefits. HHUGS has continued to provide Musa financial support to keep him afloat, including paying his documentation to gain status in the UK.
After years of isolation, there was some relief after the hardship; years after engagement broke, Musa finally got married. Scarred but not broken, Musa continues to brave through the years of emotional and psychological trauma. HHUGS hope to continue their involvement in his daily struggle and seek to relieve any foreseeable hardships.
“They are the ones who are supporting me. They are more than my brothers and sisters. I don't have this from anywhere else.”