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B.C. mother enlists Ottawa to help find children taken to Iraq by father

Alison Azer’s children, pictured in 2015.


A British Columbia mother says her former husband has taken their four young children to northern Iraq and is in Ottawa this week to plead with the federal government to help return them.

Alison Azer of Courtenay, says Kurdish-Canadian doctor Saren Azer took their children more than six months ago.

"Those children never, ever wanted to be where they are," Ms. Azer said in an interview.

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"Who is fighting for those children? I am. But I can't do it on my own."

NDP MP Gord Johns, the member of Parliament for Ms. Azer's Courtenay-Alberni riding, says he's been in touch with Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion and senior officials at consular affairs about the issue.

"None of us have done enough until the children have come home," he said. "We need to step up the pressure on the government. The government needs to work quickly, but at the pace that will not put the children at risk."

Ms. Azer met this week with Liberal MP Omar Alghabra, the parliamentary secretary to the Mr. Dion. While Ms. Azer believes the government is working to help her, she wants more specifics on what is being done.

"I do want to express gratitude for that. But I'm also watching the clock. The longer they are there, the less chance they have of coming out alive," she said.

Mr. Alghabra wants to reassure Ms. Azer that the government is working on the case. "It was an important meeting, it was a tough meeting. It was very difficult on Ms. Azer, and I wanted to express the government's sincere and serious effort to bring the children back home," Mr. Alghabra said.

"We're committed to doing everything we can."

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A spokeswoman for Mr. Dion's ministry, Global Affairs Canada, said the government is deeply concerned about the well-being of the children. She said Canadian consular officials are working closely with government authorities abroad – but would not comment on specifics due to privacy concerns.

Ms. Azer last saw her children – aged 3, 7, 9 and 11 – on Aug. 4, her oldest daughter Sharvahn's 11th birthday. Mr. Azer had received a court order allowing him to take the children to France and Germany, but later flew with them to Iraq on Aug. 15, she says.

The last time Ms. Azer talked to her kids was on Aug. 13.

"I haven't seen my children, I haven't heard their voices, I haven't stroked their cheeks, I haven't let them know how sorry I am on behalf of an entire system that failed them," she said, choking back tears.

There is a still an Interpol missing persons notice for the children: daughters Sharvahn and Rojevahn, 9, and sons Dersim, 7, and three-year-old Meitan. There is also a Canadian national warrant for Mr. Azer's arrest.

Ms. Azer travelled to Iraqi Kurdistan in the fall but was unable to locate her children. She returned and their whereabouts have since been discovered in a dangerous region of northeastern Iraq, she says.

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Ms. Azer hopes the government works with its embassy in Jordan, as well as the Kurdish government, to find her kids and bring them home.

"My children are in a region that the Canadian government is highly involved in," Ms. Azer said.

"We're bringing in 25,000 [refugees] from that region. I'm proud of Canada for reaching out, but what about my kids? Why are they still there?"

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