A woman whose seven-year-old son was kidnapped by his father and taken to Saudi Arabia has said lawyers in the country are too afraid to get involved with her case, as she prepares for a meeting with the Foreign Office this week.
Ranem Elkhalidi has vowed to keep fighting for the safe return of her Cheshire-born son Ibrahim, who was taken from his primary school six months ago by her estranged husband, Hamzah Faraj, a Saudi national, in breach of a court order.
Elkhalidi is now worried she will never again see her son, who was born in the UK and only speaks English, as there is no extradition treaty in place between the two countries and she has been unable to find a Saudi-based lawyer who will take her case.
She said: “I’m so stressed. I’m taking antidepressants just to keep me going. When I don’t take them, I just break down and cry. I remember something about Ibra and I start crying. I think about whether he’s OK or whether he’s sick. Sometimes, I sense that he’s sick and I start to think about whether people are shouting at him, or whether he’s upset about not having his friends, whether he is learning in school.”
Ibrahim was one of five children who were abducted from the UK and taken to Saudi Arabia by a parent last year, according to consulate figures retrieved by the Commons Library. Elkhalidi last saw her son on 11 November, when she dropped him at his primary school in Frodsham, Cheshire. He was due to spend the weekend with his father, who had shared child arrangements after the couple separated.
However, the following Monday Ibrahim’s school called to say he had not turned up and they had been unable to get in touch with Faraj. Elkhalidi called the police and it was discovered Faraj had flown with Ibrahim from Manchester Airport to the Saudi port city of Jeddah on Saturday.
Only nine days earlier Elkhalidi had obtained a court order from Liverpool family court to stop Faraj from taking Ibrahim out of the UK. She had said she feared this would happen based on Faraj’s temperament and said this was a pattern among Saudi families. Authorities believed Faraj would not be able to get Ibrahim out of the UK because his mother had his passport, but Faraj managed to obtain a travel document from the Saudi embassy.
Before he was kidnapped, Elkhalidi had requested that the Saudi embassy not issue a passport for Ibrahim but this request was ignored. Additional court orders have been ignored and there has been no communication between Faraj and the UK authorities since he went on the run. Since coming to the UK from Palestine as a refugee, Elkhalidi has made a life in the UK and is due to take the citizenship test.
However, a change in the rules before Ibrahim was born has meant that, despite being born in the UK and only ever having lived in the north-west of England, he is not a British citizen and therefore ineligible for consular assistance from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
Mike Amesbury, Labour MP for Weaver Vale, said he would do everything in his power to help Elkhalidi get her son back. He will be at the meeting with Elkhalidi and three officials from the FCDO in charge of child policy on Tuesday and hopes the UK will “try and use some influence through our historic relationship, and existing relationship which is quite strong, with Saudi Arabia to exert some influence to Saudi government officials”.
He said: “Do we have a legal route in the cases of abduction to Saudi Arabia? We don’t, but we do have diplomatic routes and strong relationships and ties.” He added that he hoped the media pressure would make Faraj “do the right thing by his son and his son’s mum”.
In January, Lord Ahmad, the Middle East minister, wrote to Amesbury in response to a question about whether there was anything else that could be done in Ibrahim’s case. In a letter seen by the Guardian, Ahmad acknowledged that it was a “distressing time” for Elkhalidi but said, as Saudi Arabia was not a party to The Hague convention, there was no way of enforcing Ibrahim’s return.
He advised Elkhalidi to get a Saudi lawyer but she said this has proved difficult. She said: “Every time I find one, they ask if I’m British. And because I’m not, they said that they don’t care. They’re too scared to get involved in this kind of case. One lawyer said he would charge £350 an hour and we couldn’t afford it.”
She added: “Sometimes, I dream about him. We’re outside together, but I can’t hug him. I think of his cute face. And I just miss him. I think about where he is, and I can’t see him, and I just wake up crying.” Elkhalidi said Ibrahim had a tick sheet by his bed where he could earn points for good behaviour. He was saving up for a Hot Wheels toy. The document is still by his bed. She hopes a message might eventually reach her son. “I just want to hold him. I just want to let him know that I love him so much. I’m going to keep fighting to bring him home,” she said.