By Anne Czernik

West Yorkshire Police, investigating a missing person report, say a Bradford family may be heading for Syria.  Thirty-nine year old Imran Ameen, his wife Farzana age forty, together with their five children flew direct from Manchester to Antalya, Turkey on Tuesday October six. Imran’s brother, Rehan Noor Ul Ameen 30 years is believed to have travelled to Dalaman, Turkey on June 29 also from Manchester Airport. West Yorkshire Police have confirmed that the Ameen family’s whereabouts, and reason for travel are unknown.  Enquires are underway to try and determine their movements.

One thousand and eighty pupils disappeared with their families from Bradford schools during 2014/15 according to Bradford Safeguarding Children’s Board latest figures. No specific agency is tasked with an overall analysis of the cohort of children that go missing in Bradford. Paul Hill said “Up until now, our data is collected in terms of children, rather than families”

BGF001_18102015_ISS08West Yorkshire police said that “Families can and do often move from areas of the UK for any number of reasons. We are only aware of two families in Bradford missing in these circumstances.”

Agencies don’t know for certain how many families go missing in Bradford – or why. The Office of the Director of Children’s Services declined to offer comment.

Ralph Berry Portfolio Holder for Health and Social Care, with responsibility for safeguarding told Asian Sunday exclusively “That’s an impossible question to answer. People have jumped to all sorts of conclusions. People move backward and forward all the time. They can go via Dubai, Pakistan, Moscow, Turkey whatever. People do these trips every day of the week and most of them are normal. Someone wakes up in the morning and decides that they owe a load of money and does a runner from their debts and their situation. That’s what happens in a society where people have debt. There are elements of that. People get divorced or get separated. There are 101 good reasons why people move.”

But the difference with the Ameen family is the belief that they may have gone to a war zone.

 Labour Cllr Ralph Berry and Bradford Council portfolio holder for Ralph Berry Portfolio Holder for Health and Social Care
Labour Cllr Ralph Berry and Bradford Council portfolio holder for Ralph Berry Portfolio Holder for Health and Social Care

Berry said “There is a whole load of conflation, speculation, jumping to conclusions. What seems to be emerging – there are different security agencies cutting across each other – that there is a distinct theme that people who have become groomed into extreme ways of thinking are looking for an answer to their problems.”

ACC Russ Foster from West Yorkshire Police said “Our primary concern is the safety and welfare of the young children and the safe return of the young family. We would urge anyone with information about the family’s whereabouts to come forward and speak to police. Any piece of information, no matter how small, could help the UK or overseas authorities to locate the family”

Asian Sunday investigates.

Stop the blame game

It’s just a few months since the Dawood sisters were reported to have crossed the border into Syria amidst a blaze of publicity, accusations and condemnation. Once again, the Muslim community is under the microscope.

Furious Asian Sunday reader Rizwan Saleem said “A precedent seems to have been set amongst mainstream media that every time an individual act of crime/terror/ suspicion is reported there seems to be an onus of the wider Muslim population to apologise or defend their role in the act. “

Asian Sunday publisher, Fatima Patel was interrogated when she appeared on Radio Leeds to talk about the issue. BBC journalist Liz Green re-tweeted that “The community need to sort these things out and not blame the authorities” after grilling Patel about her view that the Muslim community are not accountable.

Businessman Saleem Kader Picture by Roger V Moody
Businessman Saleem Kader                           Picture by Roger V Moody

Saleem Kader of the world renowned Bombay Stores in Bradford told Asian Sunday that “There appears to be this image of Bradford with its Muslim population who somehow appear to the outside world to all be extremists and radicalised. In all the 51 years that I have lived in Bradford, I’m yet to meet another Muslim person who agrees with any of the extremist or radicalised views. Our religions does not allow violence or ill treatment towards another human being let alone murder and killing.”

Kader says he understands that “For people who don’t meet or know Muslims it must be difficult for them to understand that the majority of us are disgusted by the blameless killing and brutal terrorism that is being carried out in the name of Islam. I don’t think that our communities in Bradford have anything to do with these supposed mercenaries that travel to Syria and warn torn regions. To point a finger of blame at the majority of innocent ordinary peaceful and God fearing Muslims is very unfair”

Amandeep Hayre said “As a non-Muslim Asian person in Bradford, I think the only way to change perceptions is to show the rest of the UK that we are a diverse and tight knit community with decent values. The Muslim community needs to know that it’s not alone. We all have a responsibility in protecting our neighbours and it really needs to become the norm for people of all backgrounds to address the issues of segregation and isolation openly so that we can then move on from blaming one community for the ills of a few”

Patel said “Finger pointing isn’t going to help anyone. It’s about working together as a community to understand the problems, and to support one another. This is a global problem. We are losing people, innocent lives are being jeopardised. Our community is in mourning. We still don’t know where these children or the hundreds of other missing children and their families are.”

What we do know is that subtle changes were noticed by close family members and neighbours in the period leading up to the family’s disappearance but the community is stunned by this family’s departure.

Fun loving Farzana had friends from every section of the community. She was not a strict Muslim and the family seemed happy and financially secure. A few weeks before Farzana and her family stepped onto that fateful flight from Manchester into the unknown, the family car was downsized.

The children were de-registered from mainstream school on 29 September 2015.

Berry said that “There are children in Birmingham, Bradford and other places who have been removed from school so it’s been seen as a proxy indicator. It is. It’s so loosely regulated. The last Labour government tried to tighten it up but the right kicked off and said it interfered with the family life. But it’s the back door to all sorts of things.” He conceded “There are also people who want an alternative form of education but there is a very definite increase in people who are doing it for religious extremism reasons”

Farzana told her friends that the family were immigrating to Dubai where Imran had been offered an exciting new job. Oddly, no-one accompanied them to the airport and no parties were held to wish them on their way as is tradition.

Farzana Ameen recently travelled to Pakistan with her mother, who has health issues, to leave her in the care of relatives. The elderly and frail woman’s carer in Bradford said she was “really shocked. They said she went to Pakistan but we don’t know where she really is”

Farzana is said to have told family members she is doing what is “best for the kids”, without revealing her location.

The Ameen family were not known to agencies but families who hold traditional fundamentalist views are living in fear. The Prevent agenda, the government’s counter terror strategy has reached into schools, institutions and every area of public and family life. One man came forward to tell Asian Sunday what life is like in Britain when your family is considered ‘extremist’

We have had to protect his identity and are using a pseudonym.

Tariq is a devout Muslim who was born and raised in the UK.  He says “I’m a strong believer in the faith and I believe that Islam is a political way of life”

Tariq has no criminal record. He is currently one of many people deemed a “legal extremist” under the new Prevent criteria. Legal extremists have broken no laws but adhere to views that the government deem to be a threat to the British way of life.

Tariq says that “We are living in a town where people are afraid to do anything because they want to protect their families and their children. Everyone is afraid to talk. Nobody wants to talk about what Islam truly is because if we do, we will be deemed ‘extremist’ even though there is nothing wrong with what we are actually saying.”

Tariq said “I’m afraid. Your name is tarnished and they can take your kid away. I would still put my strong stance on my children to be who they are. They see the struggle and that will make them stronger. The government want to separate parents and children because they don’t want the parents to influence them. They are growing up in a time like never before. No-one has seen anything like this. There is a lot of struggle going on and the community is split in two.”

Tariq says there should be more confidence for the imams to be able to speak out on these issues.

Tariq lives in fear that he or his children will be taken away because he believes in traditional Islam.

He says it’s contrary to British values and that “People came to the West because they didn’t want that fear. For example, in Libya, just to read a political magazine is five years imprisonment. In the 60’s, 70’s 80’s, Britain was quite free. Muslims didn’t make Islam political. But the frustration of the foreign policy – which is the main key issue gets people frustrated. People therefore want change but no-one is allowed to talk about problems or using Islam as a proper solution. Religion has been segregated from politics. “

Tariq found himself classed as extremist wanted to pull his children out of assemblies and religious activity at school.  Tariq explained to the head saying “I don’t have a problem with learning about different faiths. There are different faiths in the class. But to tell my kid to participate in Christian activities, that is another.”

He thinks there will come a time when Muslim’s will have to leave this country and in the mosques, community centres, and barber shops many are silently nodding their heads. Tariq said “They came here to be peaceful, to live a normal life, because British colonialism messed up their country. Now they are being messed up here. So we might as well go. You don’t get any sunshine here anyway.”