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Canadian family holds out hope missing 5-year-old Syrian girl can be found

Mira Akram Al Jawabrah is shown in a family handout photo. An Ontario woman whose young niece went missing while fleeing Syria with her family says she knows there's a chance the girl didn't survive the shipwreck that killed her parents and siblings. But Noor Al Jawabreh, a Syrian refugee living Kitchener, Ont., says she holds out hope her niece is alive and will leave no stone unturned until the girl is found. Mira Akram Al Jawabreh, her parents and three younger siblings were among some 500 refugees aboard a boat that capsized off the coast of Italy in August 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Mohamed Masalmeh

KITCHENER, Ont. – An Ontario woman whose young niece went missing while fleeing Syria with her family said she knows there’s a chance the girl didn’t survive the shipwreck that killed her parents and siblings.

But Noor Al Jawabreh, a Syrian refugee living Kitchener, Ont., said she holds out hope her niece is alive and will leave no stone unturned until the girl is found.

Mira Akram Al Jawabreh, her parents and three younger siblings were among some 500 refugees aboard a boat that capsized off the coast of Italy in August 2014.

Relatives were initially told all six had drowned but a mysterious photograph of a dark-haired girl that emerged on a Syrian news website days later stirred hope that Mira had survived.

READ MORE: Dramatic images capture the moment a boat carrying hundreds of migrants sank, killing 5

That hope faltered last Friday, when Noor Al Jawabreh said she spoke to a man in Denmark who told her the girl in the photo was his daughter, not Mira.

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Still, Al Jawabreh said she will keep searching for her niece until more conclusive information surfaces.

The family has already suffered so many losses – Al Jawabreh’s older brother, Mira’s uncle, was killed in the early days of the Syrian conflict – that they cannot rest without knowing Mira’s fate, she said.

Wracked by guilt over the child’s disappearance, Al Jawabreh said she feels it is her responsibility to find Mira because she is one of the few relatives still alive to do it.

She said she wants nothing more than to give Mira a new life with her family in Canada.

READ MORE: Canadian relatives of missing 5-year-old Syrian girl seek help after photo appears online

Al Jawabreh last saw her niece in 2012, when the girl was still a toddler, she said.

She and her family then fled to Jordan, where they remained until their arrival in Canada three months ago. Mira’s family, meanwhile, went to Algeria, eventually travelling illegally to Tunisia to take the boat.

In her attempts to track down Mira, Al Jawabreh said she has spoken to some who survived the shipwreck as well as members of the Syrian community in Italy, where the photo was reportedly taken.

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Mira’s grandmother, who lives in Jordan, contacted the Italian embassy there but received no useful information, Al Jawabreh said.

Another of Mira’s relatives, a cousin who lives in Halifax, has said requests for information from the Red Cross, the Italian government and police have been equally fruitless.

“They wouldn’t even identify that the girl was there,” Mohamed Masalmeh said last week.

READ MORE: Syrian refugee families get introduced to local services

“They wouldn’t admit that the girl was still alive, even though we saw her picture there. They didn’t want to release any information … I don’t know if it’s just bureaucracy or they just don’t know where she is. There must be a way to track her down.”

Last week, an Italian television show dedicated to missing people issued an appeal for information on Mira’s whereabouts.

The show, Chi L’Ha Visto, reported the photo was taken by Syracuse police in Augusta, on the eastern coast of Sicily. It also found the girl in the photo was registered with authorities under the name Maria, not Mira, and was marked as being of Palestinian origin.

With official inquiries hitting a dead end, Al Jawabreh said help from strangers may be the family’s only chance at a reunion.

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