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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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.