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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B.C. doctor accused of abducting his kids contacts RCMP


June 5, 2016

Source: ctvnews.com

The Comox Valley RCMP says it has been contacted by Saren Azer – a prominent Comox Valley doctor and father who took his children to the Middle East and never came back.

saren_azer

Saren is accused of abducting his four kids – daughters Sharvahn, 11, Rojevan, 9, and sons Dersim, 7, and Meitan, 3 – nine months ago.

The RCMP says they talked to Saren at length about his actions and he assured them that the children are safe.

Officers say they are hopeful that communication with the father will continue so that a resolution can be found in what they are calling a “parental abduction investigation.”

The children’s mother Alison Azer tells CTV News that the communication is a good sign.

“I think he’s realized that he needs to find his way back to Canada with the children. He’s made a terrible mistake, an illegal one and he’s an international fugitive,” Alison said. “He’s not safe where he is and as a result the children aren’t safe.”

missing-kids-Azer-Alison

Last month a Facebook group went online called “Azer children” – showing new pictures of the kids with their father and relatives.

In comments on the page Saren only says the children are happy and safe.

But their mom Alison says the safest place for her kids is at home in Canada.

“It’s an international fugitive who’s saying that they’re safe. Child abduction is child abuse, so until the children are returned to Canada they’re not safe and neither is their father,” Alison stated.

The mom of four says Wednesday was an especially difficult day for her because it was her youngest son’s fourth birthday.

“I miss my kids so desperately and yesterday I just held out hope all day long that Saren might let them call me,” Alison said. “I thought that there was a chance that he may give me that, give them that. It was a really long day.”

As for the mom, Alison says she’s still trying to make sense of how this could have happened in the first place.

“It doesn’t make any sense that ten months on the furthest that Canadian authorities have gotten is they’ve answered the call from an international fugitive. The Canadian government can do more and they must do more. We won’t stop until they do,” she said.

Last month Alison met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa. She says Trudeau assured her that the file pertaining to her kid’s case is on his desk and will stay there until the children come home.

“He’s called it a priority and I think Canadians are eager to see what that means for this relatively new government,” Alison noted.

She is heading back to Ottawa next week. Although she doesn’t have a meeting set up with the prime minister, she hopes she can get an update from his staff.

An online petition #MakeTheCall was started last month. It’s directed at Trudeau to contact his Iranian counterpart.

A Canada-wide arrest warrant has been issued for Saren Azer.

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The government can save these children


March 15, 2016

Source: ottawacitizen.com

Canada’s ability to help its citizens in trouble abroad is usually limited. Witness the high-profile example of journalist Mohamed Fahmy, jailed in Egypt (and released only last year), or that of teacher Neil Bantleman, still imprisoned in Indonesia.

Alison_Azer.png

But the case of four Canadian children kidnapped by their father and spirited off to the Kurdish north of Iraq is different: The federal government has the muscle to act.

This harrowing story, reported by the Citizen’s David Pugliese on the weekend, involves the four young children of Canadians Alison and Saren Azer. Saren Azer, a doctor with Kurdish roots, originally from Iran, had been granted limited travel rights with his children after the couple divorced (the court made Alison, not him, their primary caregiver). But while on a court-approved trip to Europe, Azer abruptly whisked his children off to Iraqi Kurdistan, where he had a reputation for humanitarian work. When Alison came after him – travelling at great personal danger deep into Kurdish territory to appeal for the return of her children – local leaders turned her away. She believes the children’s location is well-known, but that Azer’s aid work prompted the community to protect him and rebuff her.

Separated from their mother now for more than six months, the children are victims of a parental kidnapping.

Canada can fix this. The federal government has just committed to more “lethal aid” and to tripling its military trainers in the fight against ISIL; most of these trainers will work with the Kurds. This gives the government unusual diplomatic heft, which it can use to retrieve the children. Kurdish leaders who want Canada’s military help should be told to respect Canada’s courts. Bring the children back.

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B.C. mom continues search to recover abducted children from Iraq


March 1, 2016

Source: metronews.ca

Every morning, Alison Azer gets to forget.

Alison-Azer

In the brief moments between waking and getting out of bed, she is mentally planning lunches and coordinating after-school activities for her four children: Sharvahn, 11; Rojevahn, 9; Dersim, 7; and Meitan, 3.

 

But the blissful reprieve crashes when she remembers that the children haven’t been home in months.

“It’s just about three seconds, but it’s so sweet,” she told the Star. “And then the curtain drops and I feel like somebody punched me and I can’t breathe. And then I remember: This is my life.”

Arbil-Iraq-Abducted-Kirkuk

 

In August, the life of the British Columbia mother went from arranging birthday parties and firing up the barbecue, to a desperate search — one she feels sometimes left to shoulder on her own.

Her children were taken to Europe by their father, Azer’s ex-husband, Saren Azer, with whom she has joint custody. The trip was court-approved, but they never returned. She believes their father is keeping them in the remote mountainous border region of northern Iraq.

Monday marked 200 days since she heard from them.

It was Aug. 13, and the children told her over the phone that they were in Cologne, Germany, Azer said. It was a bad line and she could hear street noise all around.

 

“I couldn’t get a sense, as their mom, that they were OK,” she said. Fearing that things weren’t right, she asked her kids to find a quieter spot. Then, according to Azer, she heard her ex-husband rushing them off the phone.

Though they were required to check in with her every 48 hours, 50 hours passed after that call. She texted her ex-husband admonishing him for being late, Azer said. But she never heard back.

 

“Now I look back on that, I’m 200 days into not hearing my kids’ voices, seeing their faces, stroking their cheeks,” she said.

“It has been a nightmare every single minute since I first knew that that call was not coming in on Aug. 15.”

On Aug. 24, the Comox Valley RCMP issued a Canada-wide arrest warrant for Saren Azer, also known as Salahaddin Mahmudi-Azer, in relation to abduction charges.

Alison Azer said the missed call last summer confirmed fears that began when the couple separated in December 2012. She had insisted throughout a three-year custody dispute that neither parent be permitted to take the children out of the country.

She said she feared her husband, an Iranian Kurd who came to Canada in 1994, would take them overseas.

missing-kids-Azer-Alison

 

“I was willing to compromise on just about anything, as long as we didn’t have international travel,” she said. It meant turning down the common demand most parents are faced with at some point: a trip to Disneyland.

Denying her children the joys of being a kid was not something Azer relished.

Her ex-husband was strict, she said, and light-hearted pursuits like birthday parties and swimming lessons were not allowed.

 

“They lost out on so much,” Azer said. “He wanted control over their childhood.”

“He made it increasingly clear that he did not want our children raised in the West,” she said. He had threatened before to take the children to Iran to be with his mother.

After the couple split, she tried to share the joys they had been so often denied.

“I made every excuse for a party I could think of,” she said.

 

Ordinarily, October meant planning her family’s annual Halloween party. But this October she set off for Iraq, for the second time since the children were reported missing. She said she stayed until mid-January, travelling between Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, searching for allies and answers.

Working through contacts, building from one person to the next, her worst fears were realized, Azer said: a source told her the children were in the Qandil Mountains in northern Iraq.

Iraq Kurdistan PKK Camp

Qandil Mountains, Kurdistan/Iraq. PKK Camp.

 

The region is rife with violence, something Azer knew well. According to Azer, her husband spent time in the region in the early ’90s as a supporter of the PKK, a Kurdish independence group.

The source showed her photographs of her daughters in which they looked drawn and tired, with dark circles under their eyes.

“They looked uncomfortable,” she said.

She believes her ex-husband would keep the children fed, but worries about the conditions they may be living in.

“It’s really, really cold. There are two metres of snow, and the structures are made out of cement blocks,” she said.

 

She worries about her youngest tripping and hurting himself on an oil burner used to warm the room. “It’s just — it’s crazy.”

She’s also convinced they aren’t attending school.

Back in Canada, classmates from Courtenay, B.C., skipped recess to watch MPs address the issue of their missing classmates during a recent Question Period.

The town has rallied around Azer. A December letter-writing campaign resulted in 30,000 letters to government officials.

 

Despite the efforts, she fears the case is falling on deaf ears. That’s why she is ramping up efforts to tell her story, even if it’s painful.

“The sad reality is it’s going to need to get a lot more uncomfortable for a lot of people before this can get solved,” she said.

“The only fact that any of us as Canadians need to know is, it’s just not right for four Canadian kids to be held captive in a war zone.”

With spring approaching, she fears time is running out.

“Once that snow starts to melt, that’s when the bombing starts,” she said, her voice is quivering.

 

“To me it’s a pretty straightforward line, and my question is: Why aren’t these kids worth that much to this government?” she said. “Do they have to start coming out one by one in body bags?”

An RCMP spokesperson said the case is active and “continues to be a priority investigation.”

“All efforts are being made to bring the children home. Our investigators continue to work with our partners domestically and internationally, in order to ensure the family is reunited,” RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Janelle Shoihet said in an email. She declined to confirm whether the children were believed to be in northern Iraq.

 

Torstar News Service could not independently confirm the details of Azer’s account.

A spokesperson for Global Affairs said the government is in regular contact with Azer and is working closely with officials in Canada and abroad, and called the children’s wellbeing a priority.

In the meantime, Azer still reaches for candy to bring home to the kids at a store checkout, her body forgetting what her mind can’t.

“My instincts are the instincts of a mother, and I just don’t have anybody right now to be a mom to.”

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Mother of allegedly abducted kids returns empty handed from Iraq


January 15, 2016

Source: CKNW

A desperate B.C mom who claims her ex-husband kidnapped her four children and took them to Iraq five months ago, has returned from the Middle East empty-handed

azer-kids-abducted-Iraq

Alison Azer of the Comox Valley hasn’t had her four children, aged 11, 9, 7 and 3, home since August.

She alleges her ex-husband Saren Azer abducted them and fled to the Kurdish region of Iraq.

The mother travelled to Kurdistan in October, but now says she was forced to return to Canada without her kids.

Azer declined an interview, but says in a Facebook post she discovered where the children are, but complications arose from her ex-husband’s unwillingness to comply with international law.

“I tried everything I could think of, nothing worked. On the 150th day of my children’s abduction, I returned to Canada with the heaviest of hearts. I wouldn’t wish an hour of this nightmare on anyone.”

Many of you know that I travelled to Kurdistan in late October with the goal of finding the children. On December 1st, I…

Posted by Alison Azer on Wednesday, January 13, 2016