Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 July 2019

Hopes millions of displaced Iraqi families will be reunited after 'orphan' rescued 30 years ago finds mum

British politician who rescued Iraqi child after napalm attack says she hopes other youngsters will find their real families too

Amar and Baroness Nicholson, who brought him to the UK.
Amar and Baroness Nicholson, who brought him to the UK.

A British baroness who rescued an Iraqi boy ‘orphaned’ in a napalm attack wants to see millions of other families reunited after he found his real mother again after 30 years.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne brought Amar Kanim, now 40, to the UK after discovering the 10-year-old in hospital badly scarred following a bombing orchestrated by Saddam Hussein in southern Iraq in 1991.

She was told he had lost his mother, three sisters and two brothers in the attack and launched a fundraising campaign to pay for the 27 specialist operations needed to treat him back in the UK.

Then a politician, the baroness and her late husband became his legal guardians and he lived with the in the UK.

By chance, after 30 years, he was recently reunited with his mother after someone saw her appeal to find her missing son in Iraq.

Now, Baroness Nicholson hopes Amar's story will help reunite other families who have been separated from loved ones.

Speaking at an event in London's Palace of Westminster, Baroness Nicholson, who launched the Amar Foundation to bring aid to Iraq, said that she hoped it would help open the door for millions of other families.

"Amar, after whom the charity is named, found his mother in Iraq. It is such an extraordinary thing to have happened," she said.

She has invited the British broadcaster the BBC to explain "how on earth" they did it.

"If the BBC did it, why cannot everybody else?," she said.

"There are hundreds, thousands, in fact millions of missing children and mothers. I'm interested in what we can learn from it and Amar for what it felt like."

Amar had suffered the burns after a warehouse where he and his siblings were playing was attacked.

Anti-Saddam fighters found him and moved him from the scene.

Weeks later the politician happened upon him while on a fact-finding mission about the fate of civilians in the marshes between the Tigris and Euphrates following the first Gulf War.

The charity spent years trying to trace his family and were even approached by bogus people claiming to be related to him.

But it was until last year that Andy Alcroft, a BBC cameraman, had a chance encounter with Mr Kanim while covering an unrelated story in Exeter, where he was unemployed and struggling to pay his bills.

Mr Kanim said he had received footage on Facebook of a woman on Iraqi TV claiming to be his mother.

“He is my son,” she told the camera, but Mr Kanim could not be certain that it was his mother.

BBC reporters found that some of the details given by Zahra, who lives in Karbala, 300 miles north of Basra, matched Mr Kanim’s story.

She had a photograph of him as a child, but he said he did not remember what his face looked like before his burns.

He told the BBC: “I want it to be true . . . but for 30 years I’ve been told my family is dead.”

Zahra agreed to a DNA test which showed a match of over 99.99 per cent with Mr Kanim, who returned to Iraq for the first time since 1992 to be reunited with his mother and Tahrir, his younger brother.

“My little Amar,” said Zahra during their emotional reunion.

“All I wanted was for my mother to be proud of me, and I think she is,” Amar said.

“For so long, my life has been empty, but now I have a purpose. I want to come back and visit my family again soon. I feel blessed. Everything makes sense. My life is finally complete.”

Updated: June 15, 2019 08:32 PM

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