An Abbotsford mom whose kids were abducted to Beirut, Lebanon by their father two years ago is desperately hoping for word that they are OK following a massive explosion in the capital city this week.
Shelley Beyak said she has been emailing, texting and calling her estranged husband, Wissam Tarabichi, begging for word that her children – Liam, 10, and Mia, 11 – are safe.
But Beyak said she is not surprised that she hasn’t heard back from Tarabichi because he has been ignoring her since her last visit to Beirut in November.
“I would do anything to talk to them,” Beyak said.
Mia and Liam have been in Lebanon since March 2018, when they were scheduled to travel on a court-approved trip to Seattle with Tarabichi – who is from Beirut – over spring break.
They didn’t return for the start of school at Margaret Stenersen Elementary in Abbotsford, and Beyak was notified.
It was then discovered that Tarabichi had indeed travelled to Seattle but, from there, he and the kids boarded a plane to Paris and then to Beirut, which does not recognize international parental kidnapping as a crime and where custody issues are often made by religious authorities.
The Canadian courts stripped Tarabichi of all his parents rights and a warrant for his arrest remains in effect, but it can only be executed if he leaves Lebanon.
Meanwhile, Beyak has launched an extensive – and expensive – legal battle to get her kids back, including hiring a lawyer in Lebanon, contacting politicians, and urging the Canadian government to help her in her battle to bring them home.
Beyak has also made visits to Beirut, where she was able to see Mia and Liam in person in early and late 2019, after which Tarabichi ignored all attempts by Beyak to reach him for further contact with the kids.
At that time, Beyak was becoming increasingly concerned about the kids’ safety, due to a series of violent civil protests that began in mid-October, launching a political and economic crisis, including the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
The crisis has been further compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the two situations resulting in Lebanon’s currency plummeting, soaring food prices, massive layoffs and widespread poverty.
Beyak said a court date had been set for March of this year in Lebanon to determine custody of the kids, and she had been “cautiously optimistic” about how it would proceed.
But the courts were shut down during the protests and continue to remain closed due to the pandemic, and Beyak has no idea when her case can proceed or when she will be able to see Liam and Mia again.
She was further distressed this week after hearing that a massive explosion had taken place at a warehouse in Beirut that was storing 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate – used as a fertilizer in agriculture and an explosive.
As of Wednesday morning, news reports indicate that at least 135 people had died in the explosion, more than 4,000 people were injured and 300,000 people had suffered damage to their homes.
Beyak said that if the kids are OK, she would like just one message from Tarabichi to confirm that.
“I think Mia and Liam would at least like to talk to their mom … I imagine they feel alone,” she said.