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Asiyah and kids

Asiyah is a young mother and recent divorcee. Her former husband had been arrested a few times, including for robbery and murder but never charged and released on bail. He was complaining to Asiyah that the MI5 were ‘harassing’ him and in 2013 decided to leave the UK saying that they were ‘making life difficult for him’. Because he skipped bail upon leaving the UK, Asiyah had people turn up in her home looking for him. She was left with three kids and has had a difficult time as single mum. Two years later Asiyah and her estranged husband decided to give their marriage another change. She made plans to travel to see him in Turkey. The kids were excited to see their dad and spent some nights in a hotel, she said. She got detained in the airport on her way to Turkey with her three kids. She was suspected to be traveling to Syria.

‘They were waiting for me’

Asiyah said she got stopped just after she and the kids passed the security checks by border police. She was taken to a room for questioning, searched, her hijab was removed, her finger prints taken. The police told her that this had a lot to do with her husband, who was a former Chechnya freedom fighter and wanted both there and in the UK due to skipping bail. Asiyah recalled the next few hours as traumatic with her head being ‘all over the place’. They asked questions about her husband and where he was. She was told that there are too many single mothers passing through to Syria and felt that they wanted to make an example out of her which is why she was treated so harshly. She was put on bail and her passport was taken from her. Despite having charges against her dropped, Asiyah did not get her passport back. But that is not her biggest punishment. More harrowingly, she was deprived of her children.

‘You are always waiting for them to come back’

All this time Asiyah was interrogated she did not know where her kids were, nor could she see them. They were taken away from her the moment she got detained and since that day Asiyah has not been able to see her children unsupervised. The then 4, 8 and 10 year olds were taken into care. It disturbed her that the kids were not placed with a Muslim family. After some time the authorities agreed for her parents to become guardians of her kids which made her feel more comfortable, at least the children were living with their grandparents. Despite this, she can never see them spontaneously, only supervised once a week on Friday afternoons. If she wants to drop something for them in the middle of the week, she needs to enter her parents’ house when the children are not there which she finds painful, seeing their things and toys but not them. Ending up all alone, Asiyah became depressed. She says she was scared on her own as she often experienced house raids in the middle of the night.

‘They are going to come for me, each day I was waiting’

In the midst of her depression, Asiyah started spending time with people she ‘shouldn’t hang out with’ explaining that she was lonely, a ‘total mess’ and needed help. Since she was arrested, the community and her friends moved away from her and she had no support. Speaking to people who had gone through similar issues helped her. But then she realised that she needed to cut ties with the people she associated with if she wanted to get her kids back. She got herself a job and agreed to sign up to a de-radicalisation programme in the hope that that would help her get her children back, which was her priority. This was her way to fight for her kids, she says. But despite all her efforts she was repeatedly let down. The day before her court case in which she was going to get her children back, her house was raided and she was again set back. She has been told that when her oldest child reaches the age of 18, she can than choose to come back to her. That is six years away and for Asiyah it feels like an eternity. While she keeps fighting to get her children back, she is also trying to start a new life. She has met a man but he lives abroad and without a passport she cannot travel to see him. Her chances of forming a family again are limited as despite being young, she has been told that if she has any children in the future, they too will be taken into care. Asiyah’s case is one of several examples of state policing of women’s bodies in the war on terror by punishing their associations to men through their kids.

*All names are pseudonyms*