Sky News documentary highlights rise in abduction of British children to foreign countries

In an exclusive documentary, Libya: the Stolen Children, Sky News highlights the alarming trend of children being abducted and taken abroad by members of their own family.

In the hard-hitting documentary, Sky News Foreign Affairs Correspondent Lisa Holland follows the story of a group of women who all met and married Libyan men in Britain. However, their children were taken to Libya by the fathers – in most cases abducted – and because the country is not a signatory of the Hague Convention, it is virtually impossible to get the children back.

Sky News was given unprecedented access to the North African country to follow the mothers and grandparents as they attempt to be reunited with their children. The group travelled with the help of a unique scheme, organised by UK charity Children and Families Across Borders (CAFAB), which arranges access to the kids at a holiday camp in the capital Tripoli. Sky’s Lisa Holland accompanied the group during the emotional visit, where they had just two weeks with their children. 

Sky News Foreign Correspondent Lisa Holland said: “The documentary is a real eye-opener about just how difficult it is to get your child back if they have being abducted by their own father, and taken to a country which doesn’t recognise international protocols – and that applies to most countries outside of Europe.” 

Foreign Office figures have revealed a 39% increase over the last year* of British children being abducted by one of their parents and taken to countries not signed up to The Hague Convention. It is an issue that has been attributed by charities to the growing number of transcultural marriages in the UK.

One of the mothers featured in the documentary, Anita Lewis, from Norwich met her Libyan ex-husband through mutual friends, but after they separated, he took their five children during a routine visit, committing one of Britain’s biggest cases of child abduction. For weeks Anita had no idea where they were until she found out he had smuggled his children back to his home country. Despite being relieved to hear they were safe, she tells Sky News; “For me it was still my worst fear, realising that they were in Libya and just knowing I wouldn’t be able to get them back”.

During the making of the documentary, Sky News secretly filmed Anita’s ex-husband, Azzedin Elgirnazi. He admits on camera to the illegal abduction of his children but the Libyan authorities still refuse to hand him over.  Sky News has passed on the footage onto Norfolk police who say he will be arrested if he steps foot on British soil.

Tracey Shirif from Derby was with her husband until the day he abducted their three-year-old daughter Ayesha, in 1992, after he decided that she must be raised as a Muslim. Tracey was left to miss out on most of her daughter’s childhood and now, aged 21, Ayesha is engaged in an arranged marriage. In the documentary it is clear that Ayesha wishes she could return to the UK with her mother, but once married, it is unlikely she will be able to leave the country of her own accord.

Marisse from Holland was tragically killed by her Libyan partner during the violent abduction of their daughter, Isra.  Marisse’s parents, Maris and Clary van der Burg, had no desire to see the son-in-law who was responsible for their daughter’s death, but the documentary follows their painful attempts to make contact with their grand-daughter for the first time in six years.

“It was heartbreaking watching the mums having to jump through hoops to get access to their children.  And in some cases the Libyan authorities went back on their promise to do everything they could to make the fathers co-operate with the reunion scheme.   Some relatives didn’t even get the full two weeks with the children”, recalls Lisa Holland.   

The documentary highlights the religious and cultural differences that the families must navigate in order to make contact with their lost children. And, in such a strictly Muslim and patriarchal society, the women are seen to be at the mercy of the fathers who can easily deny them access. 

When asked what advice he would give to someone in a similar situation, Ayesha’s father says; “I wouldn’t advise them to marry a Western women….I mean if you are from the East you get married from the East, because, Western women are too much sophisticated in my opinion.”

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