15th July 2011 London, UK

Child abductions in Cyprus

James McCamley, Consular Caseworker, Nicosia, Cyprus

I’m sure if you ask most people what Cyprus means to them they’ll start talking enthusiastically about great beaches and fun holidays. That was certainly my main image of the island before I came to work here in the High Commission’s Consular Section – which is responsible for helping British nationals who get into trouble overseas. Of course the beaches are great and there’s lots of fun to be had, but that is only part of the story. I didn’t realise, for instance, how much of my time would be spent dealing with Child Abduction cases. Cyprus is one of the top 13 countries dealing with child abduction.  Last year we dealt with 16 cases – and that doesn’t include the literally hundreds of calls we take on related issues. Thankfully not all these calls turn into full blown child abductions.

I suppose there are a lot of different reasons behind this. There are of course a lot of Brits living in Cyprus and a lot of Cypriots living in the UK so that means there‘s a higher likelihood of a British national marrying a Cypriot or a dual-national. Also a dream move to a holiday island may go wrong leading to a family break up with only one partner wanting to return to the UK. Both of these scenarios could lead to a child abduction case and that phone call to the High Commission which starts “I’m in Cyprus with my husband and children. We’re splitting up and he’s stolen the children’s passport so I can’t get them out of the country. Can you help me?”

We can help but we can’t take sides. And we can’t usually issue a new passport for a child without both parents’ permission. However we can provide lists of lawyers on the island who will be able to give advice and we can put people in contact with reunite, a charity which provides practical information for people involved in this situation. 

In Cyprus we’ve decided to take things a stage further and later this year we will be running a series of events across the island featuring one of the UK’s FCO Child Abduction Service experts. This will be an opportunity to speak to the media, ex-pats and Cypriot authorities and raise awareness of the issue.

So what would my advice be to someone who finds themselves in this terrible situation? I think my key message would be ‘don’t take the law into your own hands’. In Cyprus in particular there are temptations to ignore the legal process and flee jurisdiction. However you need the legal system on your side and that’s not going to happen if you try to go round it. Trusting the legal process may be frustrating and time consuming – one case I dealt with involved lawyers from 5 countries – but it’s the most likely way of resolving the issue.