A Toronto-area mother has been reunited with her children just in time for Christmas after they were rescued from her native Zimbabwe, police said Monday.
Biatra Muzabazi broke down in tears as she related how she had feared she'd never again see her young children, who were not returned home from a vacation with their father's family. She was desperate and pulling out all the stops, so short of money she describes spending several days on the street when she flew to Zimbabwe to find them.
The safe return of four-year-old Shane and his big sister Rene, 7, capped an emotional summer for the family and was the result of a collaboration that brought together police and diplomats on two continents.
"This is, I think, a very important story," Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said Monday. "A good story, with a great ending."
Speaking emotionally to reporters after the police news conference, Ms. Muzabazi said that she believes her son may have been too young to really understand what was going on. But her daughter seems to have been hit harder.
"Right now, she just can't go far away from me," Ms. Muzabazi said "She just want to be with me all the time. Even when I have to step out a little bit to go and throw away the garbage, she just say to me 'mummy, as you coming back?'."
Ms. Muzabazi said her ex-husband, who is also in Canada, arranged a summer visit for the children with his family in Zimbabwe. She has sole custody but other vacations had been carried out without incident and she didn't worry about this one. But as the children's time away drew to a close, she says her former in-laws told her it was "their turn" to raise the children.
Frantic, Ms. Muzabazi went to police in Toronto, starting a search that at times seemed fruitless.
"I never thought this was going to be possible," she admitted, holding tightly to her wide-eyed children as she spoke to the crush of reporters. "I never thought I would see my children again with the way things were going."
According to police, the children were placed in a boarding school that actively helped keep them from authorities.
Ontario's office of the Attorney General made a formal submission to the Zimbabwe Central Authority and Ms. Muzabazi's mother, who lives in Zimbabwe, helped secure the necessary documentation. But the children's mother was required to take custody in person.
Ms. Muzabazi flew to the southern African country and turned up at the boarding school, only to have the children spirited away by one of her former in-laws.
Local police picked up the search and the children were eventually turned in at the Canadian embassy in Harare, the capital, last week. Two days later they were home. The Toronto police investigation continues and includes a probe of what role, if any, her ex-husband played in keeping the children in Africa.
"I just want to thank everybody," Mr. Muzabazi said, sobbing. "You made it possible for me to be with my children for Christmas. Thank you so much."