Saturday 27 December 2014

Concern voiced over surge in child abduction cases

Published 15/08/2014 | 02:30

Michaella McCollum...Irish-born Michaella McCollum, handcuffed, arrives for a court hearing, in Lima, Peru, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013. McCollum along with Melissa Reid, of Britain, were detained on Aug. 6 at Lima's airport for allegedly trying to smuggle cocaine on a flight to Spain and were formally charged for drug trafficking. (AP Photo/Karel Navarro)...I
Michaella McCollum

THE Department of Foreign Affairs has expressed concern at a rise in the number of children being abducted by a parent and taken abroad.

Twenty-six cases were recorded last year and 22 in 2012, according to briefing documents prepared for new Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan.

Officials told the minister cases of parental child abduction "continue to rise each year".

However, such cases rarely end up being disclosed in the media unless they result in a prosecution and have traditionally not been publicised by authorities.

The highest profile case of child abduction in recent years was that of Lebanese-born criminal Hassan Hassan, who was jailed for two years after abducting his young sons and taking them to Syria for nine months.

The boys' mother, Latvian-born Baiba Saulite, was murdered in 2006, shorty after the boys were returned to her. The case remains unsolved despite a lengthy investigation.

Last year's abductions were among 1,500 cases dealt with by the department where Irish people got into some form of serious trouble abroad.

Other incidents included kidnappings, arrests, accidents and hospitalisation.

Some 225 Irish citizens died abroad during 2013, an increase of 31 on the number who died in foreign countries the previous year.

There were 255 Irish citizens arrested last year, compared with 290 in 2012.

Officials said contact from families of people in some sort of trouble increases greatly during June, July and August.

These months accounted for half of all emergencies notified to the department last year.

The highest number of so-called "consular emergencies" occurred in Spain, followed by Australia, the US, Britain, Canada, France, Thailand, Portugal, the United Arab Emirates, the Philippines, Italy, India, the Netherlands, China, Vietnam and New Zealand.

The response to these incidents often involves both embassy or consular staff on the ground and department staff back in Ireland.

Assisted

This was the situation in the case of convicted drugs mule Michaella McCollum, who was jailed for six years and eight months in Peru last year.

As Ireland does not have an embassy in Peru, officials were dispatched from the embassy in Mexico and were assisted by a consular team back in Ireland.

They ensured Ms McCollum's family was kept abreast of developments in the case and also monitored her successful application for a transfer to a prison in Northern Ireland.

The department has set up a section on its website where people traveling abroad can register their contact details "in the event of an emergency or crisis situation".

During the Arab Spring in 2011, the department set up an emergency crisis assistance team to help Irish citizens leave trouble zones.

This team arranged the evacuation of around 400 people from Libya. Two Air Corps planes were used to fly the evacuees, made up of Irish and EU citizens, to Malta.

Irish Independent

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