The exact location of four Canadian children under the age of 11 allegedly abducted by their father and flown to northern Iraq has been discovered.
Alison Azer, who grew up in St. Albert as Alison Jeffrey and is now a resident of British Columbia’s Comox Valley, has frantically searched for her children since they disappeared on a European vacation with her ex-husband in August.
Azer is now depending on the Canadian government and Iraqi authorities to work in unison to bring the children home from the Kurdish region where ongoing conflicts with Islamic state fighters have forced many people from their homes.
The girls are Sharvahn, 11 and Rojevahn, 9, and the boys are Dersim, 7, and three-year-old Meitan.
“After three months we’ve found them and that’s huge, but we’ve got work ahead,” Kate Jeffrey, Azer’s niece told media on Tuesday.
Jeffrey added that the father, Saren Azer, is allegedly refusing to release the children.
Saren Azer, also known as Salahaddin Mahmudi-Azer, is a Canadian citizen and an ethnic Kurd. He is a leading Kurdish doctor recognized for his humanitarian work and has travelled to northern Iraq on medical missions for Health Partners International Canada.
He also founded the International Society for Peace and Human Rights, a group that has sent staff and medical supplies to camps in Turkey and Iraq.
Since the alleged kidnapping Interpol listed the children as missing and put out a Canada-wide warrant for Azer’s arrest.
The family has not revealed the specific location of the children, however airport security footage reveals that the children landed at Sulaymaniyah Airport in Northern Iraq in August.
Jeffrey also told media, “For Alison the news is incredible. She’s been incredibly strong through what’s been a really intolerable situation and she’s optimistic, but she’s cautious. She knows that this is going to be a challenge to get them back, but not a challenge she can’t face.”
Azer is also grateful for the social media support she has received from across North America.
One of her strongest supporters is Melissa Zawaduk, a Grade 3 teacher at Elmer S. Gish Elementary and Junior High School.
Azer brought her four children to live in St. Albert for a brief time during the 2012-2013 school season and Zawaduk was Sharvahn’s Grade 3 teacher.
On hearing the children were located, Zawaduk burst into tears.
“I cried. I was so happy. As happy as I was, I realized this was only the beginning of the end. We need to bring them home and there is a great deal to the political process.”
To assist the process she has organized a school fundraiser to sell 400 bracelets for $2 to help Azer pay for incurred expenses that have included fact-finding trips to the Middle East.
In closing Zawaduk said, “We have to retrieve them and return them home as soon as possible.”