A SIX-YEAR-OLD girl who was abducted from her mother more than a year ago has been caught up in the protests in Tunisia.
Imen Fitouri has been unable to go to school since the country was thrown into turmoil on Friday when president Zine al-Abindine Ben Ali was forced from power.
But despite advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office that all British nationals should return home little Imen has no choice but to stay in the troubled country.
That’s because she was abducted from her home in Milton Keynes by her father, Mekki Fitouri, and taken to live in the Tunisian town of Hammamet, about an hours drive from the capital Tunis where the majority of the violence has taken place in the last week.
Her mother, Sylvia Volna, 30, from Wolverton, has been desperately trying to find a way to bring Imen home since Mr Fitouri took her on a holiday to his homeland and never returned in August 2009.
In a case that bears a striking resemblance to that of Great Linford resident Ken Spooner, Miss Volna obtained a Order from the English High Court saying Imen should be brought back to the country of her birth.
That Order now has to be registered in the Tunisian courts before it can be acted on.
Mr Spooner has been fighting for the return of his children Devlan, five, and Caelan, three, since their mother Zanetta Nyendwa took them on an agreed family holiday in October 2008 – and never came back.
He also managed to register an Order with the English High Court, but the Zambian authorities rejected it leaving him facing a protracted legal battle.
Milton Keynes Citizen’s Justice for Ken campaign has been fighting to get the British government to intervene in the case.
Miss Volna’s case further highlights the increasing issue of international child abduction. According to figures from UK charity Reunite there were 351 cases of international parental child abduction in 2010 involving 513 children.
In a post on Facebook group, ‘Can you help bring Imen home?’, Miss Volna, who has not even been able to speak to Imen since the abduction, wrote about a rare glimpse of her daughter on Mr Fitouri’s Facebook page: ‘It is so hard to look at, although in a way it is good to see her smile.
‘I’m writing this post through tears cause all the time I’m trying to hold it all back, but once it starts there is no way to stop it...
‘All I wish for is to have her back here and spoil her and I just want to hold her and tell her that I’m still her mummy and I love her very much.’
And the current situation in Tunisia has added further urgency to her cause.
There have been weeks of demonstrations over corruption, unemployment and high food prices, culminating in the overthrow of Mr Ben Ali.
Although Imen is away from Tunis, the situation remains far from certain.
Miss Volna said: “There were demonstrations in Hammamet as well. Shops were not opened and they had an 8pm curfew.
“Mekki has only just started going back to work and Imen is still unable to go to school.
“I think the law should definitely change to stop this happening. Mekki boasted that he had researched it online and that there was nothing I could do.”
Advice Line Manager at Reunite Sharon Cooke said: “Parental child abduction is becoming an increasing problem as the world is getting smaller and there are more mixed national relationships and marriages.
“The psychological effects on the children who have been taken away from the other parent, their environment, normal routine, family and friends can be both devastating and traumatic.
“This can even affect them in later life. For the left-behind parent, the shock and the loss are unbearable, particularly if they don’t know where their children have been taken to.
“Even after they have been found, the fear and pain of not knowing if their children will return home is unimaginable.”
To support Miss Volna visit the ‘Can you help bring Imen home?’ Facebook page. To learn more about Mr Spooner’s case visit our Justice for Ken Facebook page or sign our petition asking Prime Minister David Cameron to intervene at http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/justice-for-ken.html