Mother pleads for Canada to bring back children taken to Iran


August 16, 2016

Source: middleeasteye.net

Alison Azer wants federal government to help bring her four children home after their father took them to Iran in alleged abduction.

Alison_Azer-Iran

Alison Azer has not seen or spoken to her children in one year.

And now the Canadian mother of four is pleading with the federal government in Ottawa to bring her children home after their father took them out of the country last August and never returned.

“Today it just feels like such a tragic day and I’m so very disappointed to have to get to this point and for my children to have to get to this point,” Alison told Middle East Eye in a telephone interview on Monday, which marked exactly one year since her children were taken from Canada.

Alison said that she has not even been able to speak to her four children – Sharvahn, 12, Rojevahn, 10, Dersim, seven, and Meitan, four – since they left the country.

At the time, Alison said she believed the children were going on a holiday to Europe with their father, Saren Azer, who shared joint custody with Alison after the couple’s divorce.

But what was meant to be a two-week holiday has turned into a year-long nightmare.

“They can’t rescue themselves and I can’t do this alone,” said Alison, who has launched the website, FindAzerKidsNow.com. “I really, really need the government to work with me to bring the Azer children, my children, back to Canada.”

Interpol red alert

Saren Azer, an Iranian citizen of Kurdish background who moved to Canada in the mid-1990s, said he wanted to take his children on holiday to Europe in August 2015, Alison said.

A BC court granted him specific permission to travel to France and Germany with the children provided that he check in with Alison every 48 hours and return to Canada on 22 August.

A day before the children were scheduled to return, however, Canada’s federal police (RCMP) alerted Alison that they had been abducted. They were seen in Germany in mid-August 2015 and they were later believed to have flown to Sulaimaniyah, in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region, with their father.

A trained physician and Kurdish rights activist, Dr Azer regularly went to Iraqi Kurdistan to provide medical care and humanitarian support for internally displaced persons in the area. On 21 August 2015, the Supreme Court of British Columbia issued an order requiring the children be returned to Canada immediately, and a few days later on 24 August 2015, the RCMP obtained a Canada-wide arrest warrant for Azer.

saren_azer

International police agency Interpol also issued an arrest order for him on charges of “abduction in contravention of custody order” at the Canadian authorities’ request.

“We understand how difficult this situation is for the children’s mother and others in the community. We will continue our efforts at home and abroad to locate and safely return these children to British Columbia,” the RCMP in Comox Valley, the area of BC the family lives, said in a statement at the time.

In June 2016, the RCMP confirmed that Azer had reached out to assure police “that the children are safe” and to answer questions posed by investigators.

“The RCMP is mindful that cases of this nature are very emotional. We are hopeful that the dialogue will continue so that a resolution can be found in this parental abduction investigation,” the RCMP statement read.

MEE’s request for additional comment from the RCMP in Comox Valley was not immediately returned on Monday.

Hundreds abducted annually

The Canadian government says hundreds of children are abducted and held in a country outside of Canada by a parent or guardian each year.

Parents found to have removed a child under age 14 from Canada against an existing custody order, or in violation of another custody rights agreement, constitute grounds for criminal prosecution. Such crimes are punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction – the main international treaty that governs international child abductions – aims to ensure the prompt return of children under the age of 16 that have been wrongfully removed from their primary place of residence. The convention is in force in about 90 countries, but Iran is not on that list.

Ottawa also does not currently have formal diplomatic ties with Tehran; relations were severed under the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, which makes the process of negotiating the children’s return all the more complicated.

Alison said she has been in touch with the RCMP and Global Affairs Canada, the country’s foreign affairs department, about the case. But the process, she said, has been full of “a tremendous amount of confusion [and] misinformation”.

“I don’t know who is leading this, who is accepting accountability; it changes pretty much week to week,” she said.

Her claims that Canadian officials did not respond when Iranian authorities contacted them following Azer’s detention in Iran on child abduction charges in June have been denied by Ottawa.

“The Iranian authorities never reached out to Canada when they brought Mr Azer in for questioning,” Omar Alghabra, a Liberal MP and parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, told The Globe and Mail.

Francois Lasalle, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said the government has been actively engaged on the Azer children’s case since it began, and holds their safety and wellbeing as a high priority.

“Officials in Ottawa and several of our offices abroad have spent hundreds of hours working to find a resolution to this very complex family case,” Lasalle said in an email.

He said that while Canada faces challenges due to its lack of diplomatic presence in Iran, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has spoken with his Italian counterpart, Matteo Renzi, about the Azer case because “Italy acts as Canada’s protecting power in Iran”.

“The government of Canada appreciates the assistance we have received from the Italian government,” Lasalle said.

The story of four little kids’

Meanwhile, Alison said she had hoped that she and her ex-husband could have co-parented in the best interests of their children, including teaching them about their dual Kurdish-Canadian heritage.

Instead, she said he put the children at risk by breaking Canadian laws.

“This is not a story of East versus West,” she said. “This is not a story of Islam versus the rest of the world, or fathers versus mothers, men versus women. This is the story of four little kids who – at no fault of their own – have been taken away from everything that was familiar to them and safe for them.”

Alison said she would continue to do everything she can to bring her children home safely, and urged Ottawa to do the same.

“It’s really, really important for my children and for all other kids that might be at risk of being abducted that the government of Canada shows leadership and responsibility to its citizens … and it just hasn’t done that yet.”

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Mom travels to Middle East to search for her allegedly abducted children


October 14, 2015

Source: calgaryherald.com

‘I don’t know if they’re dead or alive:’

A Canadian mother whose four children have been missing for nearly two months has returned from northern Iraq where she unsuccessfully searched for her young kids after confirming they flew into the volatile region on Aug. 15.

Rojevahn Azer and her mom Alison

Former Calgarian Alison Azer’s children — girls Sharvahn, 11, and Rojevahn, 9, and boys Dersim, 7, and three-year-old Meitan — were allegedly abducted in August by her ex-husband, Dr. Saren Azer.

“It’s a nightmare,” a distraught Alison Azer, who resides in B.C. but lived mainly in Calgary from 2004 to 2012, said on Monday.

“I woke up this morning and I just said I don’t know how much longer I can do this. I feel in such despair.”

Policing agency INTERPOL lists the four children as missing on its website and a Canada-wide warrant for the children’s Kurdish Canadian father, a well-known doctor who also goes by Salahaddin Mahmudi-Azer, was issued on Aug. 24.

The Azer children were legally allowed to go on a trip to France and Germany with their father in early August but alarm bells were raised when contact with the group ceased.

Dersim, Rojevahn and Sharvahn Azer

The children were scheduled to return home to B.C.’s Comox Valley on Aug. 22 and begin a new school year — the girls were already talking about what they would wear on their first days of Grade 6 and Grade 4, and the boys were set to enter Grade 2 and preschool.

Instead, a policeman came to Azer’s door at 4:30 a.m. on Aug. 21 and told her RCMP believed her former husband had abducted their children.

A court order requiring that the children be returned immediately to their mother was issued that day, and three days later RCMP issued an arrest warrant for the doctor, in relation to charges of Abduction in Contravention of a Custody Order.

The weeks since then have been a blur for Azer as the self-described soccer mom searches in vain for her children, who she last saw on Aug. 4 and last spoke to during a frantic telephone call when they were in Germany on Aug. 13.

“I feel so alone without my children. They’re my entire life,” she said.

Rather than celebrating her birthday at the end of September surrounded by her four children, Azer said her daughters’ elementary-aged friends stopped by her house, sang to her and brought her flowers, cards and drawings.

Over the last two months, the devastated mother has travelled to Washington, D.C., Ottawa, and the Middle East for meetings with officials and she’s worked to bring the alleged international abduction of her four children to the attention of elected officials in Canada.

“I don’t know if they’re dead or alive. If they’re alive, we’ve got to bring them to safety,” Azer said.

Azer boarded a plane for Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, last month to search for her children after confirming her kids had been taken into northern Iraq, the same region where ongoing conflicts with Islamic State fighters have forced thousands of people to flee.

While meeting with Bayan Rahman, the Kurdistan Regional Government Representative to the United States, in mid-September in Washington, D.C., Azer was informed that airport records showed her children landed at the Sulaymaniyah airport in northern Iraq on Aug. 15.

“Once I had confirmation from Washington that the children had, as I terribly feared they had, been taken into northern Iraq, I set out to go there myself,” said Azer, who returned from a week-long trip to the Middle East late last month.

While overseas, Azer met with government officials in Iraqi Kurdistan, who assured her they would do everything they could to locate her missing children but offered her few details.

“I’ve heard nothing directly of the status of their investigation except that there are complicating issues on the ground, which is as vague as it is frustrating and as frustrating as it is terrifying,” she said.

“These are four young children who speak only English, who are so unfamiliar with wherever they’ve been taken in that part of the world.”

Alison Azer

Closer to home, Canadian officials have said investigators are working hard to locate the children.

In an e-mail, RCMP spokesman Cpl. Darren Lagan said Tuesday the investigation into the missing Azer kids is ongoing and because it’s an active investigation, additional details can’t be provided.

“We are actively working on this case, both locally in the Comox Valley, and through our international liaison work at our National Headquarters in Ottawa,” Lagan stated.

In an e-mailed statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada said the Government of Canada is “aware of the abduction of the four Canadian children” and Canadian consular officials are working closely with authorities in Canada and abroad.

“Government of Canada senior officials are in regular contact with the children’s mother and remain deeply concerned for the safety and well-being of the children,” the statement said.

As she works around the clock to find her missing children and raise awareness about their alleged abduction, Azer said she doesn’t know what more she can do.

“I don’t know what it will take. I don’t know if it takes me going back (to northern Iraq)…to walk the streets of Sulaymaniyah with their pictures begging people to let their mom know where her children are,” an emotional Azer said.

“I’m desperate. I will do anything to find my children.”

Azer and her former husband separated in December 2012 and Azer said the couple reached a parenting arrangement in April 2014 that saw the children spend eight days with their mom and six with their father in a two-week period.

The missing children’s father has spoken publicly about volunteering medical care to refugees in the Middle East and he appeared in March in a promotional video with Stephen Harper, speaking about the importance of fighting ISIL.

“The atrocities that are unfolding in that part of the world are beyond anybody’s imagination. The Kurdish community of Canada whole heartedly supports the presence of the Canadian Forces in Iraq,” Saren Azer said in the video.

Azer said her former husband has family in the Middle East and she believes someone, somewhere, knows where her children are.

“There are people out there who know, and I just beg of them, just let me know what you need, let me know what it would take … I will sell everything I have, just let me know what I need to do,” she said.

“(Who) takes four Canadian children away from safety, health care, education, community, friends, family and brings them into an area of active conflict? These children must be found and they must be returned to Canada.”

Anyone with information about the missing Azer children is urged to visit www.findazerkidsnow.com.

AKlingbeil@calgaryherald.com

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