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Mother fights to bring children back to Malta

Libyan father took son and daughter after marriage failed

Zakaria (left) and his sister Aisha. Photo: The Firm Solicitors. Right: Priscilla Micallef. Photo: PA

Zakaria (left) and his sister Aisha. Photo: The Firm Solicitors. Right: Priscilla Micallef. Photo: PA

A Maltese mother is fighting for the return of her two children after her estranged husband took them to Tripoli because the UK was “too Western”.

The lawyers of Priscilla Micallef, 30, say that Jamal Khalifa Dgham, 35, is unlawfully keeping daughter Aisha, four, and son, Zakaria, who will be two in February, in Libya.

The British court issued a document with information on the case, following private hearings in the Family Division, in the hope that publicity will help the children’s return to England.

According to the document, four family members have Maltese passports.

The couple met in Malta in 1999 and married two years later. They went to the UK in 2008 where they stayed for a year before returning.

At the time Ms Micallef was pregnant with Aisha who was born in Malta, in 2009. They returned to the UK as a family in 2010, where Zakaria was born in 2012.

“The father is a practising Muslim. He informed the mother that he wants his children to be raised as devout Muslims. He previously moved to the UK believing there were more mosques there and thinking that the religion was widely recognised and practised there.

“He gradually changed his view and believed the UK to be too Western. He did not want his children to be influenced against being devout Muslims,” the lawyers said.

The couple’s relationship began to deteriorate and Mr Dgham pressured Ms Micallef to convert to Islam.

“She eventually had no choice but to convert, however, she found it extremely difficult to raise the children as devout Muslims.”

Mr Dgham accepted that the marriage was over and asked to remain in the matrimonial home until the end of September. On September 29, when he was meant to vacate the property, he had contact with the children, the lawyers said.

“Throughout the day, he kept in touch with the mother, who had no reason to believe there was any cause for concern until it was getting late and the children had not been returned.”

The lawyers said that the children – thought to be in the Bin Ashur area of Tripoli at the home of Mr Dgham’s mother – were being unlawfully retained in breach of a British court order.

On October 11, Mr Dgham was ordered by the court via e-mail to return the children.

Although the e-mail was not acknowledged, he texted Ms Micallef: “You are trying to play me. You told me you stop everything [sic]. Don’t think that am stupid I believed you just because of my mom. She told me let her speak to the kids but from tomorrow u r not gona hear or c the kids anymore and u won’t know where they r [sic].”

Citing data protection, the Foreign Affairs Ministry would not provide details when asked whether it had been contacted by the relatives. A spokesman said the ministry was always ready to assist any Maltese in any consular matter.

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