Toronto family reunited after children held in Zimbabwe
Published on Monday December 17, 2012
Video: Kids returned to mom
Toronto Police describe how they returned two children held in Zimbabwe to their mother.
Biatra Muzabazi’s daughter, Rene, didn’t want to go to Zimbabwe for the summer.
So they struck a deal: before Rene, 7, and her brother Shane, 4, left to visit relatives in April, Muzabazi promised they would be back in Canada for the beginning of the school year.
But by the end of the summer, the family the children went to visit, their father’s relatives, had enrolled them in a Zimbabwean boarding school.
They weren’t home in time for the start of the school year.
Instead, Rene and Shane spent four months at the boarding school as their mother, maternal grandmother and police and government agencies from both Canada and Zimbabwe fought to bring them home.
After a four-month ordeal, the family returned, intact, to Toronto last Thursday.
At a news conference Monday morning, Muzabazi tearfully thanked all who were involved in reuniting her with her children.
“You made it possible to be with my kids for Christmas,” she said between sobs.
As Muzabazi walked up to the podium to speak to reporters, her two children followed her — something, she explained afterwards, that now happens quite often.
“Even when I have to step out a little bit to throw away the garbage, (my daughter will) just say to me, ‘Mommy, are you coming back?’ ”
“I think she was really, really affected,” she said.
Muzabazi has sole custody of the children, who were both born in Mississauga. She is divorced and said it has been four years since she separated from her now ex-husband.
The relatives told Muzabazi in July the children wouldn’t be coming home, but she said she didn’t believe them.
When Aug. 24, the date they were supposed to return, came and went, Muzabazi realized they were serious. She went to the Toronto police for help on Sept. 1.
“I had several moments where I really didn’t think these kids were coming home,” said Det. Const. Shari Nevilles, of the 22 Division Family Violence Unit. “There were quite a few roadblocks along the way — of course, you’re dealing with foreign countries, you have to abide by their laws, you have to work within their systems,” she said.
Investigators notified Foreign Affairs, the RCMP, National Missing Children Services and Interpol. The Ontario attorney general’s office was also involved. Each agency cooperated with its counterpart in Zimbabwe to help bring the children home.
Muzabazi’s mother still lives in Zimbabwe, and though she played an “instrumental” role in the investigation, according to police, Muzabazi was eventually required to travel to her former homeland to get her children back.
The 22 Division Community Police Liaison Committee, made up of community volunteers and police service representatives, paid for the flight.
Last Tuesday, Rene and Shane were dropped off at the Canadian Embassy in Harare, the country’s capital.