Mohammed and Jasmin, who have been accused of 'using their kids' to seek financial support, have not seen their children in four years, despite UK law granting them visitation rights.

Tamil couple fight for a glimpse of their kids taken away by UK authorities 4 yrs ago
news Immigration Friday, July 19, 2019 - 17:28

“Can you please help me? I have not seen my children in four years. I don’t know if they are going to school, I don’t know if they are doing well. My only hope is that the British courts will give us justice,” says the desperate voice of Jasmin, over the phone from Singapore.

Jasmin (aka Saheera Banu Amakeder) and her husband Mohammed Yussuf, a 50-year-old Tamil man originally from Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu, are faced with every parent’s worst nightmare: losing their children forever. The couple was living on expired visas in the western-central city of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, when their two children – a six-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter – were taken away by authorities in August 2015. 

The children – born after 13 years of marriage – were taken away by the Birmingham City Council and placed under the foster care. Why? The local authorities allege that the parents 'used the children' to seek financial support after Mohammed lost his job at a pizza chain in April 2013.

Today, Jasmin is in Singapore hoping to reunite with her family, while Mohammed continues to wait in Birmingham for a glimpse of their two children – now 10 and eight years old. 

After four years of separation and a seemingly endless battle with the local authority, all that the family wants is to return to India with their children. The parents are even willing for the children to be returned in care of a relative in India if the British authorities will not approve them as caregivers for the children. The family has alleged that the children were taken away by the local authorities despite an interim court order that reportedly gave the parents permission to keep the children.

A cruel separation

The trouble started for the family in April 2013, when Mohammed lost his job. Though they managed with his small savings and a bank loan they procured for a year, they had to approach a charity in April 2014. The charity in turn referred them to the local authorities. 

Meanwhile, the couple’s immigration status was pending with the Home Office as Mohammed and Jasmin’s visa had expired. For all legal purposes, they were overstayed immigrants. 

As the parents and local authorities attempted to work out the amount of financial assistance to be provided, a major dispute broke out between the two parties. At the end of the dispute, the local authorities alleged that the parents were 'using their children' to make their case for financial support. Mohammed and Jasmin had been receiving 70 pounds per week as monetary assistance and they had asked for 70 pounds more for the two kids too – an amount less than Rs 7,000 back in 2015. After denying this meagre assistance, in August 2015, the Birmingham City Council took the children away.

An agreement to meet the kids

August 18, 2015 was the last time that the parents saw the children since they refused to sign a 'working agreement' with the authorities. The parents had to sign the agreement to be allowed to meet the children in foster care, but there were conditions. They were not to make inappropriate remarks about the local authorities to their kids, and they could not engage in conversation about going home with birth parents. 

Mohammed refused to sign the agreement as he feared it meant the social workers would ‘keep the children permanently’ and he told the court the same.

“They are the parents. Seeing the children is their right. Why should they sign to see their own kids?” asks Safi, Jasmin’s sister, over the phone from Singapore. With a Singaporean ID card, Jasmin and her four-year-old third child have been living with Safi for the past 18 months. 

The mother, who was pregnant with her third child during the harrowing ordeal with the Birmingham authorities, left the UK in 2015 fearing that the newborn, too, may be taken away (the social workers said they would remove the child at birth - this is standard procedure when the other children are already in state care). Staying in Singapore with her family, she has been emailing the Birmingham City Council proof of her jewels and bank accounts in an effort to make her case – that she will be able to provide for her children. 

Safi says she doesn’t wish this fate upon anyone. “They are God’s children. God blessed the couple with children after 13 years. They haven’t even seen them in four years. They haven’t even wished them for their birthdays,” she says. 

The pain of separation has taken a mental and emotional toll on Jasmin, says her sister, “She wakes up in the middle of the night and says all she can see when she closes her eyes are the faces of her kids.” Jasmin’s four-year-old now sees photos and videos of her brother and sister whom she has never met.

Reportedly, court documents from the Family Court at Birmingham acknowledge that there were no concerns at that point (in 2014) regarding the 'parents' general abilities to provide the children with good care'.  

“My sister’s family has been broken, with each person in a different place. She keeps wondering whether her children ate on time, whether they went to school. All they want now is to live the rest of their days with all three children,” rues Safi.

Another major concern for the family is that the children have reportedly been placed in foster care – temporary guardianship in the UK – at the home of a Pakistani family. Their ethnicity and Tamil Muslim heritage were not accounted for. 

Dawood Miakhan of The Quaide Milleth Educational and Social Trust, who submitted a representation to the British Deputy High Commissioner in Chennai in support of the parents, points out that Islamic traditions are different across the world and even within India. “This is a violation of their human rights. Placing Tamil Muslim children in a Pakistani home will cause emotional stress for the children, in addition to the pressures they are already under after the separation from parents. The court has not taken this into consideration. They will lose their culture and heritage and may not even recognise their parents in a few years,” he says, referring to their impressionable age. 

'Waiting for them to come home'

Back in Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu, Abdul Latiff is distraught. A wood shop owner by profession, he offered to help his uncle Mohammed and has been petitioning the Birmingham authorities to repatriate the children to his care. “I have two children and I have enough income to take care of two more children,” he assures.

As opposed to considering Mohammed's extended family's claim of the children, the local authority is treating it as a ruse by the parents to eventually gain control of the kids. While sending the kids to the home of extended family is a legal option available, the local authority appears to have come to a premature conclusion that the uncle would not care for the children – all this without a proper assessment of his ability to do so. The Nagapattinam Child Welfare Committee - an independent statutory authority, has found Latiff’s family as fit to care for the children- but the British local authority is ignoring this report. 

In March this year, when a social worker from the UK called Abdul on the phone to determine his fitness as a carer for the children, he was provided with a translator who spoke Sri Lankan Tamil. “The social worker told me that the children don’t speak Tamil and I don’t speak English so we are not a good match. But the children have been born and raised in a Tamil home. They speak Tamil fluently. My translator was Sri Lankan. She did not relay what I was saying correctly to the social worker. With this limited information, they are deciding,” he alleges. 

The court agrees that siblings should not be separated, however the local authority has been unable to find a family that is willing to adopt the children. This has left the children's father, mother and their uncle running from pillar to post in an effort to win back custody of their children.

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