Imagine a country where, at the stroke of a pen and without any recourse to a judge, a faceless Government official can deprive someone of their liberty and, at the stroke of a pen, consign them indefinitely to what to all intents and purposes is a prison, without them having being charged with or convicted of any crime. That country is Britain. And if you thought that this use of state power was characteristic only of dictatorships or tyrannies, then think again, as it's happening here, on our doorstep, under our noses, without any fuss and certainly without any publicity.
Muslims in the country are 'Britain's top charity givers', giving an average of almost £371 each a year". Prime Minister David Cameron, in his video message to mark the start of Ramadan 2014, said "Here in Britain, Muslims are our biggest donors - they give more to charity than any other faith group."
The news is terrible from Iraq right now, but it was in 2009 that things got very bad for me and my family. First, my dad was kidnapped, then the same thing happened to one of my brothers, who was also tortured. They were released - though my brother was kept in captivity for 53 days. They threw him out into the street and left him like a dog to find his own way home. We were forced to move to a different area of Baghdad.
I've made a film called Leave to Remain - an odd title that displays the absurdly English wordplay that describes the 'permission' that the home office grants asylum seekers to give them 'leave' to 'remain' in this country either definitely or indefinitely. It's a fitting title for the wilfully confusing system that determines worthiness for refugee status.
Refugees consistently face some of the toughest choices imaginable - whether to stay where they are and face rape, torture or death or leave behind their family, everything they have and know to embark on a dangerous - all too often fatal - flight into the unknown. Here's where I'm supposed to say: 'Imagine if it were you, facing such a choice. Imagine if it were your mother or brother". But you don't need to be patronised. We're all more than capable of empathy. Yet we continue to treat refugees with ignorance and even contempt. Why does our collective empathy so often fail to manifest in our treatment of such a vulnerable group?
In our report, we found that systematic failures from successive governments had left many destitute, with levels of support inadequate to meet even basic living needs. As one mother told the panel, "I would buy one meal which I will share with my son. My son, is my priority, therefore I will provide his nutritional needs before my own and occasionally starving myself." The government said that they would take our findings into consideration, but I was extremely disappointed when, in June last year, the Home Office announced that they were freezing the support rates.
I first met Hala at a tented settlement in central Bekaa, East Lebanon. She had been here for a year, one in a million refugees who have fled Syria. They call her 'the orphan'; her tomboy walk and winter hat make her easy to spot. She speaks with a disturbing nonchalance; a hardness, common amongst many refugees I have met. Her hair is falling out.
Refugees come to the UK in fear of their lives, having fled the horrors of violent conflict, persecution, rape or other forms of torture or harm. They are met by a complex, insensitive and fiercely adversarial asylum system that all too often lets them down and, by association, lets us and the liberties we cherish, down too.