An Irish mother whose children were kidnapped by their father while on holiday in Tunisia has vowed not to leave the country without them.
Elaine Ryan has not seen her four youngest children since 2019 when a summer holiday to see her husband’s family turned into a nightmare.
Before their departure everything had seemed normal. The children were registered to go back to school and their uniforms had been bought. Elaine and her husband had even been to the local social welfare office to sign documents for the Back To School Allowance.
It was August when they arrived in Tunisia and it was then that Elaine’s husband posed an unsettling question to her:
“A few days into the holiday I started to notice that my husband kept asking about leaving the children here with his family and we’d go back to Ireland the two of us,” she explained to Lunchtime Live.
“He’d go back to university and we’d come to Tunisia every three months to spend a month with the kids.
“I said, ‘No. We’re returning to Ireland, we came here on a holiday and the kids have school. I have my other daughter back home in Ireland, she’s starting her Leaving Cert year.’
“That was fine, he kind of stopped then.”
However, one afternoon there was a knock on the apartment door that would change Elaine’s life forever:
“My husband arrived with what they call a bailiff in Tunisia, serving me papers,” she continued.
“He had gone to court for temporary custody of the kids.
“He had lied to the courts, he had told the courts that we had moved to Tunisia and that when we got here I had decided to leave, which was not true we had only come here on a holiday.”
She was alone, traumatised and in a foreign country with no phone to communicate what was happening to her family in Ireland.
It was at that point that her in-laws arrived at the apartment:
“The mother and the father said they were taking the three oldest kids out for ice cream because I was still upset and they wanted to take the kids away from that,” she recalled.
“What I didn’t realise was they were taking the kids to a different apartment and they never brought them back.
“About 9 o’clock at night he eventually allowed me to answer the call from my mother. So obviously it was an emotional phone call because they didn’t know what was going on.
“While I was on the phone to them his mother came in and took [the youngest] from the bed and had taken him to the apartment as well.
“So he kept me locked in the apartment for that night but he let me know where the kids were and that they’d gone with his mother to another apartment.”
On 3rd September she was finally allowed to see her children and as they parted she made them a solemn promise:
“Daddy’s going to take you now,” she said, “and I might not be able to find you but just know that I’ll keep looking for you.”
Since then Elaine’s life has been a mixture of heartbreak and legal battles. Her husband’s repeated failures to turn up at court and the COVID-19 pandemic means that the case is still not resolved.
In March 2021 she returned to Ireland to see her family and while she was home her father died. She decided to stay on for a few months to support her daughter through the Leaving Cert but other than that she has remained in Tunisia.
Her family are helping her with her legal fees and she is determined to pursue every avenue to get her children back:
“I’m not leaving without them,” she said defiantly.
“I ain’t going to leave without them and I feel like as well I can’t be taken seriously if I’m not here.”
Main Image: Elaine Ryan.