Dozens of children in Cyprus fall victim to parental abduction every year with the parents left behind calling for the state to better meet its responsibilities.
The House Human Rights Committee on Monday heard that most cases involved third country nationals who had been married to Cypriots and took their children back to their homelands.
MPs heard there had been 29 cases during 2016, up from 24 in 2015 while parents who had experienced having their children taken by their former spouses shared their experiences with MPs and called for more government support.
Commenting on the phenomenon, Disy MP Mariella Aristidou said many of the parents making off with the children did not want to cooperate with the Cypriot authorities.
The authorities in their homelands, often Arabic-speaking countries but also ones in the former Eastern bloc, also did not often cooperate.
“And as a result, the problem grows and it is impossible to reach a solution in almost all the cases,” Aristidou said.
She said the House must work to provide the authorities with tools allowing them to be more flexible in dealing with these cases.
Akel MP Skevi Koutra Koukouma noted the issue had been discussed for over three years now and complained the Justice Ministry had not sent a representative to Monday’s meeting to inform MPs on what was done in the case of countries that had signed the Hague Convention.
The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction or Hague Abduction Convention is a multilateral treaty developed by the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) that provides an expeditious method to return a child internationally abducted by a parent from one member country to another.
She also complained the Foreign Ministry, which had in 2014 taken on the coordination of cases involving non-EU countries, had done little, apart from meeting in 2015 to decide it would be useful if a relevant committee could be created.
Koukouma said such a committee would have been able to prevent a number of these abductions.
“Officials are not properly trained. We lose cases even in the courts and in the issuing of European or international warrants because procedures aren’t followed, forms aren’t filled out properly,” she said.
Koukouma added: “We have heard the tragic cases of these families and they become even more tragic when all the Welfare Office has done is cut off their single parent benefits”.
She called for stern letters to be sent to the Foreign Ministry “for failing to do anything in spite of taking on a responsibility to do so,” and to the Justice Ministry for failing to send a representative to the House Committee’s meeting.
The mother of two children who had been abducted by their father, Chrystalla Panayiotou, told MPs various authorities were not cooperating making it even harder for parents to get their children back.
“We demand that the Republic of Cyprus cooperate and for this committee (dealing with parental abductions) to finally be set up,” she said.
Panayiotou revealed she had not received any information about her children for a year now.
They were aged 18 months and four-and-a-half when their father, a Syrian national, took them and are now aged five and nine.
“I don’t know where my children are now. I am deeply upset with the Republic of Cyprus. I am a Cypriot citizen and no one is supporting me,” Panayiotou said.
Another mother, Leslie Varsanidou said that even though she had, on her own, managed to get the court and religious court in Lebanon to rule in favour of her child’s return to Cyprus, nothing had been done in the two years since the decisions had been made.
Her son was abducted by his father when he was six and is now aged13.
Varsanidou said both the current and former Presidents of the Republic Cyprus had sent letters to the Lebanon authorities in an attempt to help her and that Foreign Minister at the time Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis had been particularly helpful. “Unfortunately Mrs Marcoullis had left by the time the decisions came through. Since then there has been nothing”.
Varsanidou said she had spoken to her son for the first time in two and a half years on March 6, his birthday,
“Every discussion his father allows me to have with him on the numerous times I have tried calling has him asking me: ‘Mum, when are you coming to get me?,” she said.