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Mother's Christmas Wish Comes True

On August 2, 2008 we received a telephone call from a frantic mother. Her three year old daughter had been taken by her ex-husband and his girlfriend during a visitation and had not been returned. The mother, Sevi, explained that she and her husband were separated and she had custody of their three year old daughter. Her ex-husband had taken their daughter during one of his regular visitations and had not returned her on time. When she called he advised her that they had gone to an island for the weekend and had missed the return ferry. As time went on and she did not hear anything, Sevi continued to call her ex and his mobile was turned off. Her greatest fear was that he would take their daughter outside of Greece as he had threatened to do so in the past.

 

She reported the case to police, who confirmed the information. An investigation began that revealed that in fact her ex had a girlfriend who was not a Greek national. Prior to taking their daughter he had packed suitcases and emptied his apartment. A publicity campaign began to try to locate the little girl and her father before they had the opportunity to flee from Greece.

 

The public assisted and information started flowing to our helpline SOS 1056. Unfortunately the information indicated that the little girl had indeed been removed from Greece. Information from the witnesses also revealed that the new girlfriend was a Polish national.

 

The Smile of the Child contacted our Polish colleagues and asked for assistance with local law enforcement. Meanwhile the Greek Police and Interpol began to investigate information regarding the location of the little girl in Poland.

 

Like a Christmas miracle, on December 23, 2008 we received a telephone call from the Polish police. They had located the little girl and she was in their care. They were waiting for Sevi, with the appropriate documents to return her daughter home.

 

On December 24 Sevi flew to Poland and she called us on Christmas Day to tell us that she was holding her daughter in her arms. The best Christmas gift any mother could have- to finally hug her daughter again.

 

Desperate Mother Turns to Greek Centre for Help

In March 2005, a woman whose three-year-old daughter, Eva, had been abducted by her father contacted us. The woman is Greek and her former husband is Nigerian. They were married in Greece and separated in December 2004. The woman had custody of the child and the father had visitation rights. During one of the visits in late January, he did not return the little girl at the appointed time. The mother, worried that something had occurred kept calling him on his mobile. At some point in the evening the mobile was switched off. The mother, alarmed continued to call and when the telephone was finally switched back on she spoke to her former husband. He told her that he had taken the child and fled to England where he had relatives. He further stated that he was going to take the child back to Nigeria.

 

The Greek Centre for Missing & Exploited Children, once custody was verified, immediately called the Greek National Police, Interpol and the Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs in Greece. As well, we immediately made contact with one of our colleagues in the United Kingdom who are also members of Missing Kids Europe. We were put in contact with the Ministry of Justice in the UK. We assisted the mother in filing a legal aid certificate and in obtaining counsel in England. Counsel immediately attended a hearing and received a court order to prevent the father from leaving England and filed for a Hague Convention hearing date. Scotland Yard located him and seized all travel documents until the matter was heard in court.

 

The Greek Centre continued to work closely with counsel, assisting with the filing of affidavits and the translation of official documents that could demonstrate that the child's residence was in Greece and that her mother had custody.

 

The mother flew to the United Kingdom in early April and the hearing was held in mid-April. The child was re-united with her mother and flown back to Greece. In fact, on May 25, 2005 Eva assisted the Mayor of Athens, Mrs. Dora Bakogiannis, in releasing the thousands of periwinkle and white balloons that marked International Missing Children's Day in Greece.

 

Ten Year Search Leads to Missing Boy in Austria

In 1996, then two-year-old George was abducted by his father and virtually disappeared. His mother had custody of George and his three-month-old brother. She immediately reported the abduction to police and spent virtually the next ten years searching for her son with no success.

 

In the summer of 2005, after hearing that The Smile of the Child ran the Greek Centre for Missing "&"amp; Exploited Children, she contacted SOS 1056 and asked for help. After verifying all the information, the Centre contacted Scotland Yard in order to have George's photograph age enhanced. After all, the last time he was seen he was two years old and nobody knew how he would look now. Thanks to the skill of Scotland Yard, the photograph was created and posters of George were distributed throughout Greece.

 

The only information the Greek National Police could provide was that George was not registered in a school in Greece and that he was probably living in a neighboring country. Given that countries surrounding Greece do not have Greek schools, we hypothesized that he was probably attending an English-speaking private school. Most English private schools in the Balkan region have close contacts with the American Embassies in the area. We contacted the American Embassy in Greece and with their assistance we started to search private schools in the region. Unfortunately, it was early summer and school years had ended. This made the search more difficult and time consuming.

 

In July 2006, the mother received a call from the Greek Embassy in Austria. Aware that the Greek Centre was searching for George, they advised her that Austrian authority had stopped George and his father while they were entering Austria from the Hungary. George's father had been detained because of the Interpol warrant and that George was with Austrian authorities. Immediately, with all the necessary documents translated, one of our people and George's mother flew to Vienna and we were present for the heart wrenching moment when George and his mother were finally re-united after almost 10 years. It is moments like this that make our work worthwhile.

 

The Greek Centre's Publicity Campaign Leads to Safe Return

The Smile of the Child officially launched its missingkids.com website in November 2006. In the first three months of 2007, we have had 18 missing children, most endangered runaways. Out of these 18 children, all but two were found quickly and before they could be hurt. In the two new unsolved cases, we were contacted by organizations outside of Greece to assist in publicizing the disappearances in the hope that the Greek public could assist. One of the cases involves a missing child from Italy, and the other is a young boy from Albania.

 

By way of example, Eleftheria went missing on January 8th, 2007. She was 13 years old at the time and her family had emigrated from Albania when she was a child. Her neighbor, a 35 year-old married man was sexually exploiting her. On the date of her disappearance, her mother had learnt of the exploitation and was going to disclose to her father. Eleftheria ran away because of fear and shame. The neighbor also disappeared before police could apprehend him. After unsuccessfully trying to find the missing girl, police and Eleftheria's parents' contacted The Smile of the Child on January 15th, 2007. Utilizing our contacts with the media, we immediately publicized the disappearance on national television and put her photograph on the missingkids.com site.

 

The first tip came from a woman who had met Eleftheria the day of her disappearance on a bus in Athens. She disclosed that Eleftheria said she was from Thessalonica, a northern city in Greece, some 600 kilometers from Athens, and had lost her purse and mobile telephone. She said that she had lost both parents but had an older brother in that city. The woman believed her and bought her a ticket to Thessalonica. While they were together, she allowed Eleftheria to use her mobile telephone to call her brother. She gave us the number, which we then provided to police.

 

Through investigations, it was learned that Eleftheria went to a friend of the man who had exploited her. The obvious concern was that this other male would abuse her as well. Through experience we were worried that she might then be transported out of Greece (given that Thessalonica is close to many border Balkan countries) and forced into prostitution.

 

Throughout the week, we continued to broadcast her photograph and ensured that all borders were aware of the situation.

 

On January 26th, 2007 we finally made contact with Eleftheria. Because of the publicity, the adult male did not want to keep her any longer nor could he be seen with her. We asked her whereabouts and advised her where the closest police station was located. We sent a social worker to the station and when Eleftheria attended we finally met her. The next morning Eleftheria was re-united with her family.

 

Two Girls Saved From the Dangers of a Big City

On January 30, 2007 SOS 1056 received a telephone call from a family friend of two missing girls. The two teenage girls, both 16 years old had disappeared that afternoon. That day they had attended their school in a northwestern suburb of Athens and had not been seen since. The girls and their families had emigrated from Poland to Greece just six weeks earlier and both girls spoke only Polish. Moreover, both were from a small town in Poland and unaware of the dangers in a city of 5 million people.

 

The Greek Centre for Missing & Exploited Children immediately created posters of the two girls that were televised on all the news programs that day. A few minutes after the broadcast, SOS 1056 received a call came from someone who had seen the girls on a bus heading for the center of the city. The second call came hours later from someone who worked in a kiosk in a city park in the center of Athens. He reported that he had seen both girls in the park and that they were approached by a group of adult males who he had seen approach teenage girls in the past. The men were neither Greek nor Polish and could therefore not communicate easily with the girls. He last saw the group, including the girls heading out of the park. The Centre immediately passed the information to the Greek National Police who investigated the information.

 

The next morning, after the missing girls were again publicized on television, we received a call from someone in the southeastern part of Athens near the docks. He claimed that he had seen the girls in that area and that they appeared alone and scared. Again, we immediately contacted the police who investigated. Police located the girls and we sent a psychologist to the police station to assist. The girls recounted that the previous day the school had asked for their parents' mobile telephone numbers in order to speak to them. They became frightened and did not return home. Instead they went downtown to hide from their families. There they met a group of Albanian men who offered them a safe place for the night. They drove with the men to the sea dock area and went to a house where they were given something to drink that made them dizzy. While at this residence, the television was on and during one of the newscasts their photographs were shown. The men, knowing that everyone was looking for these two girls, immediately sent them out of the house. Unable to communicate with anyone, they spent the night outdoors, scared and alone. They stayed on a main street and this is where the last caller that morning had seen them.

 

The girls were returned to their parents and the Greek Centre provided further counseling to both families and girls.

 

SMS's Lead to The Safe Return of a 14-year-old

In the early morning hours of June 25th 2007, a frantic mother contacted us. Her 14-year-old son had gone missing since that morning. Her son was mentally disabled and had left at eleven o'clock that morning with an 18-year-old neighbor. The neighbor had invited him to a cafe with him. While she was initially hesitant, she initially relented as long as he had his mobile with him and returned by 2:00 p.m. When the two had failed to return on time, she called her son's mobile and spoke to him and the neighbor. The neighbor advised that they were with some other kids and would be returning at 7:00 p.m. She tried to insist that they return but eventually gave up.

 

When both boys failed to return at 7:00 p.m. she began to call her son's mobile. The phone was either busy or turned off. Next she called the 18-year-old's grandmother who was also a neighbor. After some time, the grandmother broke down and admitted that her 18-year-old grandson had a juvenile record and that she too was concerned about the safety of the 13-year-old. The mother started to send SMS messages to her son. She could tell that at certain times the mobile was being switched on and the messages received, yet as soon as she tried to call the number, the phone was immediately switched off.

 

Finally at midnight, with no word from either boy, the mother went to the police station to report her son missing. She then contacted The Greek Centre for Missing & Exploited Children. We immediately began to prepare posters of the boy, and in the interim directed the mother to continue sending SMS messages to her son, knowing that the 18-year-old would be reading them as well, stating that she had gone to police and to the Greek Centre and that his photograph was going to be shown on television on the morning news programs.

 

In the early morning hours the 18-year-old called her and advised where he was leaving her son. Police and family immediately went to the location and the lost 14-year-old was found. He was alone and scared but safe.

 

Halif's Story

Halif lived with his family in Kurdistan. Over a decade ago, his two older brothers had sought and received asylum in England and he was left alone with his struggling, elderly parents. Unable to care for him and hoping to give him a better life, his parents decided to take the risk and pay smugglers to transport 11-year-old Halif to join his brothers in the UK.

The smugglers took away the mobile telephone that Halif's parents had given him so that he could call his brothers and the 20 U.S. dollars that they had managed to scrape together. Halif along with 6 other Pakistani children was transported in the trunk of a Turkish taxi. The journey began in Kurdistan from where they crossed the border into Turkey, drove across Turkey and entered Greece from a northern border. The entire journey took approximately 8-10 days. Halif lost track of time in the trunk of the car and one day blended into the next. He and the other children were given a piece of bread and water only when they were transferred from one car to another as they crossed the borders' of each country.

Once in Athens the smugglers lied to the boys and told them that they had finally reached England. They would then stop the car and drop off each boy separately, telling them that they should now make contact with whoever was waiting for them in England.

Halif was dropped off in downtown Athens. He had no money, no food or clothes and was unable to speak Greek or English. Lost, cold, disoriented and frightened Halif initially hid. Eventually he came out of hiding and not knowing where to turn for help, he sat on the sidewalk. To Halif's good fortune, a truck driver who had stopped for gas noticed his confusion and physical state. The driver approached Halif gave him some water and a sandwich and not knowing what to do, called SOS 1056, The Smile of the Child's helpline.

We called police and along with them, our social worker attended the scene and found Halif. Because of his physical state, he was taken immediately to hospital and kept for medical examination. Throughout his stay in hospital we had volunteers who stayed with him to ensure that he was never alone.

Through The Smile of the Child's cultural networks in Greece, a Kurdish translator was located and Halif was able to narrate what had occurred to him and the 6 other children that were dropped off on the streets of Athens.

With the assistance of the Kurdish community and Embassy, Halif's brothers in the United Kingdom were located. All the information was confirmed and with our assistance Halif applied and was granted asylum in Greece. Based on the Dublin Agreement arrangements are being made for him to be repatriated with his family in the U.K. In the interim, Halif is safe in one of our community homes.

Halif's story has a happy ending; however sadly police have continued their investigation, but based on the vague description provided by Halif they have been unable to locate the other 6 children and their destinies are unknown.