Tyrone mum reunited with daughter snatched 24 years ago
A Northern Ireland woman has been reunited with the daughter who was snatched as a baby by her dad 24 years ago.
Dorothy Fowler never gave up hope of seeing Shaymaa once more.
She said: "Now I am whole again.
"It is a dream come true. It has taken me 24 years to find her and I never, ever want to let her go again."
Dorothy was just 18 and working in Greece as a nanny when she fell in love with an Egyptian man 12 years older. She quickly fell pregnant but the relationship became abusive. Despite the trauma Dorothy stayed with him and the pair later married.
She had Shaymaa in May 1989, but when it became clear her husband would not change she got a one-way ticket home to Northern Ireland when the baby was a few weeks old.
Dorothy tried to move on but her ex tracked her down to Omagh and persuaded her to give their marriage another chance.
Still just 20 and the baby 18 months old, and not wanting to deprive her of a father, she eventually agreed and they flew back to Greece. But within days Dorothy knew it was a mistake. She said: "He hadn't changed, if anything he was more violent."
Dorothy told him she was leaving again. But days later she says a group of his friends arrived and told her if she went she would be going alone. She added: "I told them I wasn't leaving without my daughter but they said if I tried to take her they would cut her head off. I was petrified."
The terrified mum was then frog-marched outside, put into a car and driven to the airport screaming for her daughter.
Dorothy said: "I couldn't take it in, I was in shock, my baby had been kidnapped but I was terrified that he would kill her if I went back. I was in a state but convinced myself that once I was in the UK and safe I could get my baby back through the courts. I sat numb in shock unable to take it in. All of my family were waiting for us at the airport but I was too upset to even explain what had happened initially. I locked myself in my flat and cried."
Dorothy was in for another shock. She had no money and did not qualify for legal aid. She contacted the British Embassy in Athens and staff searched for Shaymaa, but she was already gone. They suspected her dad had fled to Cairo, taking the baby with him.
Every legal route she took drew a blank because her daughter was out of the jurisdiction. All she had left were some clothes and photographs. She was left with no choice but to try to build a new life.
Dorothy had three more children: Dean (22), Charlene (20) and Dwayne (17). She said: "I loved them dearly but, of course, they didn't replace my daughter."
Then, in 2004, she got a call from the British Embassy telling her there had been a sighting of her now 15-year-old daughter in Cairo.
With renewed hope Dorothy appealed in the UK Press for help and raised £15,000 by taking out loans and credit cards to fly back to search for her.
She explained: "It was my first ray of hope in 13 years. I would have done anything to get there." Dorothy spent day and night searching the streets with staff from the Embassy but there was no news of Shaymaa.
For 10 years she had no choice but to live her life. She had daughter Miriam (5) with another partner, but the relationship failed.
Then last August, just as she was giving up hope of ever seeing Shaymaa again, the phone rang. It was her girl's father. He said he would tell her where to find their daughter if she helped him get a British passport.
Dorothy added: "I knew I couldn't do that but decided to play along in the hope that I might get information." The pair spoke daily for weeks before he gave out the number in October.
When Dorothy and her daughter had that first, very emotional conversation, Shaymaa told her she lived in Egypt with her husband and three sons and had nothing to do with her father.
She said he had taken her there as a baby and dumped her to be raised by his sister. Shaymaa had not seen her father for 24 years. Dorothy said: "We laughed and we cried and talked, the bond was there instantly. She did not blame me, there was no anger. Her English was quite good."
Weeks later Dorothy flew to Egypt with Charlene and Miriam. They were driven to a house in a village. Shaymaa came outside and ran towards it and the women hugged for the first time. Dorothy said: "We were both crying. I was shaking. It was overwhelming. She looked just like me."
Over the next few days they got to know each other better and after three weeks the mum flew home. Dorothy said: "I have been denied that for so many years and I am determined to make up for it."
Dorothy is fundraising to help bring Shaymaa back to the UK. To support her visit gofundme.com/mc9qfnxg