Naureen was ecstatic at the thought of finally getting to hug her grandma again in Germany as they drove expectantly to the airport. She patiently waited for her older two children, Yahya,12, and Emaan, 10, to stop arguing. They seemed to be at that age where they managed to quarrel over the smallest of things. Naureen had learnt to leave them be; it was too much effort to intervene. Besides, she still had her youngest daughter, Halima to fuss over, who was still a baby yet and had no reason to quarrel with anyone. The journey flew by, and before long they were at the airport and had checked in, making their way to the departure lounge.
Naureen’s excitement soon turned to dread as she and her family were prohibited from boarding the plane. Before even thinking about why she was being stopped, her heart sunk at the thought of all the time, expense and energy she had just expended in preparation for this trip. Her confusion was mirrored on her children’s faces as they tried to fathom why they had been singled out. The realisation soon dawned upon them that they wouldn’t be getting to spend time with their cousins and this brought on an onslaught of questions. Naureen was stunned into silence, unprepared for any response; she really needed time to process her thoughts. She was in shock and didn’t understand what was happening. With no time to gather her thoughts, the female officers stood idly by as a male police officer “searched inside my pockets while I had handcuffs on”. Her humiliation and confusion was too much for her to bear however, this was just the beginning…
Naureen and her husband remained in custody. Simultaneously their house was raided. When they returned home 48 hours later, they discovered all their documents, identification papers and bank cards had been confiscated along with all the electrical appliances in the house. This meant they had no money to buy food, nappies or pay to for bills, and without their bank cards they spiralled further and further into a vicious cycle of debt. As Naureen described, “Everything at home just stopped really, we had no papers, no bank cards, no ID to get anything - everything was at a standstill.” But the worst was yet to come, as a few days later her children were taken into custody.
Naureen found herself in a nightmare, barred from having any contact with her children for a week, leaving her absolutely broken. “When they took my youngest off me, she was crying and she was with complete strangers, she had a look of shock on her and didn’t know what was happening, she was so little as well. The vulnerability of her children really hit her hard as everywhere she turned in her home was a painful reminder, filled with their memories from the toys in the corner, to their drawings on the walls. The lack of communication with them ate away at her, she was so consumed with worry that she couldn’t sleep or eat … Where were they? Who were they with? Were they sleeping okay? Were they eating okay? Yahya hated vegetables and Emaan would stick her nose up at the rice if they were even slightly overcooked. And baby Halima… perfect little baby Halima whose tiny imprint had filled their lives with so much joy.
“We coped alright, but it’s the children and not knowing what is happening with the children. Although the police say to the kids that they are with a foster family, and they were reassuring us in that way, but it doesn’t matter what they say - you want to be able to talk to your children and see them.”
After what felt like the longest week of her life, Naureen was finally granted permission to speak to her children. “They were really scared about what was going to happen. They didn’t trust the police and they didn’t trust their social worker. She felt helpless at not being able to provide comfort to her children especially when they felt so vulnerable and scared. Unfortunately for Naureen, her child custody case was harrowingly drawn out well beyond six months. Her days were filled with paperwork and the stressful journey to and from the courts to the lawyers and back again; whilst her sleepless nights were filled with anxiety and fears for her uncertain future. In her darkest hour, she felt utterly alone:
“Friends abandoned us, the local people, the ones I knew before since the first arrest they keep away a bit and everybody stepped back except for one brother. Everyone is just afraid -after seeing everything, they would be scared.... The abandonment of the people who claim to be your brothers… We felt completely abandoned by all the local Muslim community.”
As the hearings continued, Naureen and her husband’s health began to deteriorate. “We look like completely different people compared to what we did. We physically have changed a lot, I have lost so much weight and my husband - his health has just gone down the toilet. There is no sleeping or rest. You eat, but you know food doesn’t benefit you because you’re so stressed out, running around all the time, stressed. You have to go to court with the children, and when you’re out of court, you’re worried if you’re going to get home in time with the children.”
Halima too would be unsettled, as Naureen would have no option but to take her to court with her. “It is very tiring, she doesn’t sleep well or eat well either.” Her elder children would have to wait for their return, left in the dark about their future. “We are instructed not to tell them (about the hearing). We can’t even reassure the children that everything will be alright. They tell us what to say, we’re given restrictions on what we can and cannot share (with them)”. Family meal times and Halima’s sleeping patterns were disrupted, due to the social worker visits. A court order was also in place at this time, barring the children from seeing their friends. Eman began to experience problems at school too. “She is angry about things as well and it comes out in the way she talks to people at school.”
After the most difficult six months of her life, Naureen was finally granted custody of her children. The battle had been won but the scars remained. Her children were no longer as carefree as they used to be. They seemed to have grown up so much and being exposed to things that no child should have to experience. What should have been days filled with endless fun and games were filled with anxiety and constant worry. “They feel like they are constantly being watched and every move that they made was being recorded by the people around them. The little one has become quite clingy- if you get out the car just to take her out, she starts getting really stressed.”
But Naureen’s financial difficulties were far from over. She quickly began applying for benefits but was faced with constant delays and ‘lost applications’. They were making ends meet by borrowing money where they could and cutting everything except bare necessities. Naureen’s husband was working as a courier, earning half of what they needed to survive, even if they only counted essentials. Delays with her benefits’ application were further exacerbated by Naureen’s inability to provide ID, given that the police had seized it. Naureen could feel the pressure mounting, on her and her husband.
“It’s so difficult, everything is so difficult because they took our passport and ID and everything. It is difficult for him to get insured... Because of going to court, he had to give up a lot of work… but they were still getting fed up that he was always at court late. It’s very sad because he is so stressed out, he always wanted to provide for his family and he feels a bit crippled that he can’t do that.”
The light at the end of the tunnel came in the form of a young sister, a HHUGS volunteer who wanted to know about Naureen’s situation. She was shocked to learn about how Naureen had been making ends meet and applied for financial assistance immediately. HHUGS did not hesitate in providing Naureen with support, starting with urgent shopping vouchers and clearing their utility bills so that they could buy food. Naureen’s husband had a small income as a courier, but this was soon put under jeopardy when his insurance policy expired. With no money and no one to turn to, HHUGS paid for his insurance so that he could continue to maintain this small income, without which, their situation would have deteriorated. Despite their financial situation, HHUGS ensured they were able to enjoy special moments as a family, sending them Qurbani meat, gifts for Ramadhan and celebrating Eid with them.
To provide Naureen with the emotional support she needed, HHUSG assigned her a keyworker who would regularly contact her and support her needs. When Naureen had to attend court she had no one to leave her children with and no one to turn to… except HHUGS. So her Keyworker took care of her children for weeks after school, lifting the burden of Naureen and allowing her to focus in court, knowing her children were in safe hands.
“The sisters who come to my house I am very grateful for that and I can’t really ask for more… I was speaking to the sister on daily basis when she was calling me and she was really helpful. She looked after my children whilst I was in court and provided emotional support. She gave me advice about how to keep mentally stable and helped me to make sense of my situation.
“We didn’t even know there was something like HHUGS out there we didn’t realise that there was someone who can help us financially.
“I know there are charities for people suffering abroad but people suffer here a lot as well. It is shocking. HHUGS are there to support all those that are going through these difficult time. If you support HHUGS, you are helping a lot of Muslims.”
A large amount of Naureen and her children’s clothing had been taken when their suitcases were seized at the airport and during the raid, Naureen told HHUGS she only had the clothing she was wearing. So HHUGS sent her an emergency clothing voucher to ensure her family were protected from the cold. HHUGS continued to pay for Naureens food and heating bills, increasing their allowance in winter to protect them from the frozen temperatures and sent them extra vouchers for jackets and jumpers. Without HHUGS, Naureen and her family would have had to brave the winter with no heating and no warm clothing.
The support that HHUGS gives to families like Naureen’s is immeasurable. When winter comes and bills mount, it is hard to find the means to buy coats for growing children. It is hard to justify putting the heater on when the debts are already so high. Our WARM HHUGS campaign provides essential financial, practical and emotional support to families. Last year, with the generous support of our donors, we were able to support over 100 families, providing 189 children with winter clothing and distributing over £21,000, additional to the regular support families received, to cover the costs of energy bills. Help us to help more families in need this Winter.