Desperate father begs Foreign Office to help rescue traumatised son from wartorn Syria
Paul Gallagher is a reporter for the Independent and Independent on Sunday having joined the group in 2012. He has previously worked for the European Voice, Daily Mirror and the Observer and been based in Brussels, Belfast, Tokyo and London.
Friday 30 May 2014
The father of a six-year-old British boy who has been stranded in war torn Syria since the conflict began has pleaded for the Government to step in and help bring him home “before it is too late”.
Birmingham-born Muadh Zain has cheated death in multiple bomb blasts during which he witnessed his uncle horrifically killed by shrapnel and another relative suffer a severe head injury. Over the last three years he has also seen his hometown reduced to rubble amid the ongoing bombardment and slaughter.
City worker Wael Zain said his son has become so traumatised having become stranded among the ruins inside the rebel stronghold of Daraa that he has stopped talking and clings on to his Syrian mother, Doha, refusing to let go.
Mr Zain, 30, who has lived in the UK all his life and works for financial services giant Allianz in Canary Wharf, London, set up an online campaign in April. He said he has begged Foreign Secretary William Hague to intervene and get his son out of the war zone but claims his pleas have fallen on deaf ears. He believes all it will take is a phone call to the Jordanian authorities to temporarily reopen its border with Syria to allow mother and son to get into the country and reach the British Embassy.
Mr Zain said: “My son is a British child. The Government has a real responsibility to act, but they aren’t. I wake up each day fearing the worst. I’m taking every hour as it comes, but I just don’t know what is going to happen. It is so unpredictable. I want my son to be safe. I don’t want him to be flown home in a coffin.”
Mr Zain separated from his wife two years ago and she returned to her immediate family with Muadh in a small village near Nawa, in the province of Daraa, south west Syria. He said they planned to return to the UK to settle permanently as Mrs Zain had indefinite leave to remain, but then the civil war broke out and gradually spread to Muadh’s village engulfing locals. Her right to remain expired as the pair became trapped in a conflict which has now claimed more than 160,000 lives.
Mr Zain went to Jordan two weeks ago but officials in Britain did not tell him the border was closed. As his ex-wife’s indefinite leave status has expired Mr Zain fears what effects an attempt to separate his son from his mother would have should she not be granted entry.
He told The Independent: “They both have to get across the Jordanian border. I haven’t seen Muadh in three years so if I tried to get only him across he’d probably feel like he was being kidnapped. He never leaves his mother’s side now.”
Mr Zain said the terror of living in a war zone unable to flee has had a devastating effect on his blonde-haired son. Muadh was caught up in a barrel bomb attack three months ago that led one of his eyes becoming inverted.
He said: “Muadh is absolutely traumatised. The last time I was able to speak to him directly was four months ago and he just said a few words. Every day that passes the situation grows more chaotic.
“At the moment they are staying in an open field under some olive trees. They fled their home after her neighbour’s house was struck by a bomb. If you are staying under a roof it is only a matter of luck if you are struck by a bomb or not. Muadh has seen more horrors than I can possibly imagine.”
Daraa is just a 15-minute drive away from the border with Jordan. Mr Zain believes it will take just one phonecall from the Foreign Office to persuade the Jordanian authorities to reopen it temporarily and allow Muadh and his mother to cross and then travel on to Britain.
He said: “They are literally a 15-minute drive to the Jordanian border and the UK has very strong ties to Jordan. They are just a short drive away from safety. No child should have to live through the destruction and violence my son is seeing.”
More than 2,000 people have signed an online petition calling on Mr Hague to do everything in his power to bring Muadh home. A spokesman said the Foreign Office is aware of the situation and offering advice and assistance to the family.
He said: “The British Government is no longer represented in Syria. The UK Border Agency is therefore unable to accept visa applications in country. Visa applicants should apply in Lebanon or Jordan.
“For some years FCO travel advice has advised against all travel to Syria, and all UK consular services in Syria were suspended some time ago. Our ability to assist British nationals is becoming more and more limited as the war continues. We continue to advise all British nationals in Syria to leave by whatever means.”
Mr Zain said: “I have explained countless times they arrived in the country before war broke out and became trapped. The Foreign Office has been abysmal to deal with. I don’t know what else I can do.”
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