Sister ‘Yusra’, a mother who is refusing to engage with PREVENT, steps forward to tell her story of how PREVENT is now seeking to have her children removed. Watch her abridged interview here.
“I’ve come under the radar of the social services because my ex-husband and I were told by security services that we were “persons of interest”. I have been quite a vocal Islamic activist for many years. I teach people about the basic principles of Islam, and the social issues. I am also a practicing Muslim and I wear niqab. These could be reasons why I am experiencing the problems I am today with the authorities. Also the Counter Terrorism Act has become more strict.
“My family and my children have been subjected to a child protection plan by the local authority due to concerns about radicalisation and extremist belief. As a result of that I have been placed in a very intensive 12 month plan set by the local child protection services. The plan is very intrusive, so social services have to visit the family, and see the children, every 7 to 10 days. I have to have regular meetings with all the agencies involved with the children, and that means speaking to and engaging with counter-terrorism officers.
“Working with them is very intrusive. I had to surrender my children’s passports. My own passport was confiscated from me. Social services have visited my house, looked at the children’s bedrooms, at the books they read, the DVDs they watch, even looked at what my children eat. But there’s been nothing in those areas that has concerned the social worker involving “radicalisation” and “extremism”. These are loose terms and the social worker has admitted on more than one occasion that she really doesn’t know what she is looking for.
“Because of these unknowns, they felt they had to escalate this matter to the PREVENT team, and in order for me to safeguard the children, I was told I must work with either a PREVENT officer, or an interventionist provider, who I am assured is independent but must be Home Office approved.
“But I’ve seen the CVs of the independent experts, and they all have historical links to the security services. They are not completely independent. I’ve seen a letter where the independent advisor got some 3000 pounds for just doing the assessment. And the questions they ask are all PREVENT questions.
“I was very co-operative for the past 12 months in this whole process thinking that by being transparent and co-operative, this will give me an opportunity to clear any concerns they have. But I’ve realised with the local authorities, that the more I co-operate, the more intrusive they become.”
I am raising my children Muslim and that is my crime
“When I refused to work with PREVENT and refused to work with the interventionist, the language became more threatening, and they said it would end up in a court process. This is where I am currently. Because I have refused to work with PREVENT, which has always been a voluntary programme, now they say they can’t de-plan my family and I have to go to court. I find it quite absurd.
“One of the health practitioners said I came across as chaotic. I am a single mother to five children, and I remember one professional said that I was far from chaotic, being a single mom of five children, able to get them to school every day with a packed lunch and being presentable.
“There are a lot of insinuations that I am a poor parent, that I am a woman who carries radical ideologies. But I am raising my children Muslim and that seems to be my crime.
“Nobody is actually looking at the children, at the long term effect of putting them under this child protection plan could be. They don’t see this struggle and disruption we are suffering as a family. It’s almost as if they’ve taken over our lives. We have no private family life.
“It’s a really difficult time for me, and I’m finding it very frustrating. It has been an abusive process and there are very few avenues to me where I can get some acknowledgement that this is the case. They’ve told me I’m under surveillance and I have no control over my life.
“There are no consequences for them. They don’t have to substantiate anything they say about me. They can say I have attended banned organisations meetings, but when I’ve asked for the dates of these meetings, they don’t give the dates. But they add this onto the minutes, and it just allows them to increase surveillance of me.
“The reason it’s gone to court is because I’ve refused to work with PREVENT and an independent advisor. So I am now being taken to court before a family court judge. You can see where the bullying is coming from. But if you’ve not found any indication of “radicalisation” from the children or from the items you’ve taken from my house, why do I have to work with PREVENT, which is voluntary anyway?
“I am quite looking forward to going to court, because this is the only way I feel I can remove the local authorities from trying to coerce my family into doing something we as a family don’t want to do, and don’t have to do by law, as PREVENT is not obligatory on any family.
“Sometimes I get really upset, but I have Allah, and I have my faith and I have strong merits to my case, and I am going to go before a judge with this. I am a unique case, the first who is not complying with PREVENT, and this is a test case, which will affect other Muslim parents.”
CAGE’s ERG22+ report has been critical in my case
“I got in contact with CAGE last year when my children were placed on the child protection plan. The kind of help I have received from CAGE has been very instrumental in my case. I cannot thank Allah enough that an organisation like CAGE exists. CAGE put me in touch with a number of good solicitors, and I’ve chosen one to represent me.
“CAGE has also offered me lots of other advocacy, lots of advice. I’ve had mobile numbers of brothers who I’ve been able to contact outside of office hours.
“What has been very instrumental in my case is the ERG22+ report, which has thrown light on a lot of what the children’s services has tried to push over me. CAGE members have attended meetings with my solicitor and given direction on how to incorporate the ERG22+ findings in my case, and given me a solid basis as to why I have declined to work with PREVENT.
“The report has given the legal team of the local authorities a lot of think about in terms of how to move with me. Had the ERG22+ report not been around, I would be in court fighting some kind of custody case. Now the local authorities have to look into another method of how to deal with my case, without having to bring it to court. That’s how instrumental the ERG22+ report has been.
“It’s such a critical report, that if it’s used and applied in other family cases, it would help a lot of other families who feel they have to co-operate with PREVENT. There would be a lot more resistance, and people would be more vocal and have a more learned understanding of what the whole PREVENT strategy is all about, and what it can do, and that it is a risk for many children to placed under such a programme.
“CAGE is very sensitive. They are very caring at a time when you feel very vulnerable because of the kind of bullying that you are getting from authorities. CAGE are the only ones who I felt have been brave enough to speak out against the policies of PREVENT. They work tirelessly, and they assist you and they don’t make any judgement on your beliefs, your practices, your differences of opinion.”
My children’s thoughts are being policed
“There’s a risk going to court but also a risk to work with PREVENT. But I’m allowed to have the opinions I have. Yes, I have a problem with foreign policy, with countries bombing civilian targets, and hospitals. I have a problem with British foreign policy, but that doesn’t mean my children are going to participate in ‘martyrdom operations’. My children are being punished and I am being punished for the opinions I have, which I feel are justified.
“I feel very sad for my children and I have tell them to be very careful, and they don’t know when to talk or when to debate. They are getting really fed up. My children’s thoughts are being policed. It’s a very uncomfortable life we are living. The other day my teenager was giving the social worker dirty looks because she’s getting fed up, but I am scared that this could be interpreted as being unfriendly to non-Muslims and it could be held against us, when really she is just being fed up.
“There are very few people willing to counter this. I feel it’s fighting a losing battle but I have to continue this, even though I know that by fighting this I might lose my children. This causes me sleepless nights. I don’t know what to do anymore. I can’t get away from it. I just have to speak up against it. I can’t not engage with them, but I can’t engage with them either. I am very very afraid for the future of my children.”
(CC image courtesy of Aditi Basu on Flikr)
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)