Derry mother returns home after Australian custody battle

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A terrified woman forced to return to Australia with her child after finding herself at the centre of an international custody battle, has now returned home to Derry.

The local mother of one, became the focus of a fundraising campaign organised by Foyle Women’s Aid in April of last year when she became homeless and penniless in Australia while trying to win a legal battle to bring her young son back to Derry.

The local domestic abuse support charity issued an emergency appeal on behalf of the woman - known only as ‘Sarah’ - and £10,000 was raised here within days. It has now issued a thank you to the Derry public on behalf of the woman and her child who are said to be “overjoyed” to be back in the city.

Legal proceedings have, however, prevented the woman from being named or from speaking out on her own behalf.

On Wednesday, Marie Brown, of Foyle Women’s Aid, criticised the fact that Sarah has been prevented from telling her story publicly.

Speaking at the ‘Connecting the Dots’ Domestic Abuse Conference in the city, Ms. Brown said Sarah’s human rights had been violated and that she had, effectively, been silenced.

She also pledged that Foyle Women’s Aid would go to Westminster to raise the issue of The Hague Convention - under which Sarah’s child’s father took her to court and which compelled her to return the child to the country they had fled.

“Until the law is changed in this respect, we are allowing our local women to be trafficked back to other countries,” said Ms. Brown. “They are being removed from their families and friends and are being left in very vulnerable conditions. Foyle Women’s Aid will do everything in its power to highlight this and try to change it.

“Sarah’s plight really struck a chord with people and the response was overwhelming. We also, sadly, had calls from women who had been, or are, in a similar situation who did not have the means to fight their cases and had to give up. They remain far away from their family and friends, alone and frightened.”

When members of the Derry public heard about Sarah’s story in the media last year, donations began to flood in to help the local mother.

Over £10,000 was donated by members of the public through direct donations and fundraising events – gigs, sponsored walks, bingo nights, sponsored Zumba, marathons and quiz nights.

Marie Brown said Sarah and her child would now start to rebuild their lives in Derry surrounded by family and friends. She did, however, highlight the major trauma which the local woman had to endure before being able to return here.

“We are delighted that Sarah has managed to come home and can resume her life but Foyle Women’s Aid will continue for this law to be changed so no other woman and child have to go through this,” she said.

“Sarah had to leave her job and her family in Derry, was left homeless and penniless as she travelled thousands of miles with her young child to face a legal battle to retain custody of her child and bring him home. She was not allowed to have a visa which meant she could not work or claim benefits in Australia.

“Her family, distraught at their daughter’s desperate plight, felt they had no choice but to appeal to the public for help as she faced massive legal fees in her fight for her child.

“Foyle Women’s Aid set up a special bank account and appealed for urgent donations. Offers flooded in of accommodation, advice and, crucially, cash donations – all of which went to pay legal fees,” she added.