In the aftermath of a devastating explosion in Beirut that left more than 100 people dead and thousands more injured, an Abbotsford, B.C., mom is trying desperately to get in contact with her young children.
Shelley Beyak’s kids, 11-year-old Mia and 10-year-old Liam, were abducted by their father Wissam Tarabichi in 2018 and taken to Beirut. Since then, communication has been scant.
The last time she spoke with the kids was in November 2019 at a governmental facility in Beirut with Tarabichi present.
She believes they are still in Lebanon capital because an Interpol missing persons report would prevent Tarabichi from moving the kids without authorities being alerted.
When Beyak heard about the deadly blast in Beirut on Tuesday, she was instantly worried.
“Of course my heart dropped. And I think, like everyone, I was thinking ‘OK what does this mean, and what was the cause of this explosion?’ It’s gut-wrenching when you know your kids are somewhere and you can’t protect them,” she said.
“Imagine being a mother and having your kids so far away, somewhere where you can’t get your eyes on them and tell them it’s going to be OK. It’s extremely, extremely gut-wrenching.”
Beyak has repeatedly tried to contact Tarabichi since the blast, but he hasn’t returned any calls, emails or text messages.
She just wants to know her children are safe.
“Even to hear their voices would be fantastic,” she said.
Beyak said the past two-and-a-half years have felt like a nightmare, and she sometimes feels lost about what to do next.
The federal government has said in the past that it is aware of the situation, but Beyak said Canada could have — and should have — done more to get the kids back home.
“If the government took immediate, strong action with Wissam in Lebanon, and with Lebanese authorities and the Lebanese government in a very persistent manner, this could have been avoided,” she said.
“Because they continue to try to work with the government through diplomatic means but I think it needs to be taken more seriously and I think the Canadian government for sure can do more if they choose to.”
There is a Canada-wide warrant out for Tarabichi’s arrest and he has been charged under Canadian law with abduction in contravention with a custody order. Interpol has also been notified of that warrant.
Lebanon is not party to the Hague Convention, a multilateral treaty signed by 101 nations designed to expeditiously return internationally abducted children from one member to another.
However, Canada and Lebanon signed a bilateral agreement in 2000 designed to “liaise” on individual cases relating to child custody between the two countries. That agreement includes a commitment to “ensure respect for the rights of access of a parent who is not entitled to legal custody of the child”.
Family law in Lebanon falls under the jurisdiction of religious courts, and according to international advocacy group Human Rights Watch, almost always favours the father.
Since Tuesday’s blast, Beyak has asked Global Affairs Canada to get in touch with Tarabichi and check on Mia and Liam’s safety — but she hasn’t received any news so far.
Global News has reached out to Global Affairs Canada for more information.
Beyak said her concerns with her kids being raised in Lebanon without her go far beyond the explosion.
The country’s economy is on the verge of collapse, and there have been months of protests against government corruption and the devaluation of the Lebanese currency, according to the country’s Honorary Consul in Vancouver, Dr. Nick Khawaji.
“You add that compounded with COVID, and the fact that if my kids were in school that they wouldn’t have been attending school, and you add this most recent explosion in Lebanon that’s going to crush the economy even further — they’re not going to be doing well and I do not know what their dad is thinking,” Beyak said.
“Them being over there is like the worst thing for them.”
Beyak said she wants Tarabichi to know that she will work with him to come up with a resolution, and at the end of day, he is Mia and Liam’s father and deserves a place in their lives.
As for the children: “I would say to them that I love them, and that I would like to speak to them and I want them to know that I worry a lot about their safety and about how they’re doing,” she said.
“I really want to talk to them. I just want them to know that I’m still here and I haven’t left them. I want them home.”