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Bilal, Shanaz and kids

Bilal and Shanaz came to the UK as an asylum seekers in the end of 1990s. They are of Kurdish background and live together with their children in a detached house in a leafy suburb in the UK. Bilal and his whole family have been subjected to a number of measures including passport removals, Prevent and house raids after the oldest son left for Syria.

It was 2014 when 18-year old Alan fled the family home and slowly made his way to Syria without the parent’s knowledge. One morning when Shanaz went to wake him up she found that he no longer was in his bedroom and his passport was missing. After informing the police, a whole group of officers from the anti-terrorism department came and started to search the house asking questions such as ‘is your son Islamic?’. Meanwhile Alan has sent a message informing his family that he is in Turkey. Desperate but hopeful, Bilal and Shanaz assumed the police would now be able to track Alan, find him and bring him back.

Sitting on his living room floor in front of a family portrait taken just months before their normal life turned into a nightmare, Bilal describes that instead of support, the family found themselves criminalised. They had frequent house raids, visits from social services and faced intimidation by the media who came to their door on several occasions and published the name of their road in a newspaper article. Since Alan left, the father and second oldest son were arrested. The father because he sent £200 over to a friend in Turkey who was looking for Alan, the son because the police feared he might go to Syria. They took both passports. Both the son and dad were put on bail conditions and the son, who was still underage, was initially banned from school for a week. Then, instead of returning back to his classroom he was put in a detention room at school for a month and was not allowed to interact with the other students, not even during the lunch break which made him even more depressed. Next, the school put him on a de-radicalisation programme. This has had negative effects on the younger son becoming depressed and unhappy. Bilal’s bank account got frozen due to the money he sent to his friends in Turkey who were looking for Alan. According to the police, Bilal tells us, this constituted funding terrorism. He has not told anyone at his work but worries people will find out, especially since the media has been harassing the family.

The social services were coming to the house every week which became very stressful for Shanaz. She communicates with her children in her mother tongue rather than English. The social services complained that at the age of 3 years the youngest child had not developed sufficient speech and ensured they will keep monitoring the child. Shanaz found herself having all her children including the youngest one scrutinised. Hopeful still that Alan will return in time to start his university degree, Bilal has phoned the police to ask if his son will be able to be admitted to university without his passport. But things has gotten worse for the family. Since our interview, the second oldest son has been arrested and jailed for failing to inform the authorities that two people that he knew went to Syria.

*All names are pseudonyms*