Remaining custody dispute sisters board flight to Italy

All four sisters involved in an international custody dispute have left for Italy.

The girls’ great aunt says the two eldest girls flew out of Brisbane just after 8pm yesterday, to join their younger siblings, who had left on a flight the night before.

The elder two were also due to be on that flight but were taken off after throwing a tantrum.

They were traumatising other passengers by screaming and kicking before the flight left and four federal police escorts were unable to restrain them.

The mother of four girls at the centre of an international custody dispute said she found out from media reports that two of her daughters did not leave Australia on Wednesday night.

Last night she said she was on her way to Brisbane International Aiport after hearing media reports her two eldest girls were due to fly out.

Earlier, the girls' great-grandmother said the girls' mother had no immediate plans to fly to Italy, despite her daughters being sent there on the orders of a judge.

The great-grandmother of the four girls vowed ‘‘this is not over’’ but said their mother was too scared to fly to Italy, did not have the money to get there and did not have anywhere to stay.

‘‘If she (the girl’s mother) went back to Italy she would have absolutely no money at all, she would have nowhere to stay, every person in the village has been poisoned against her,’’ she said.

The girls, aged between nine and 15, were taken kicking and screaming from an undisclosed Sunshine Coast home by Australian Federal Police on Wednesday night.

In the early hours of yesterday morning, the officers then escorted the girls on to a Dubai-bound plane en route to Italy.

They had been sent back to their home country for their parents’ custody case to be heard under Italian jurisdiction, on the orders of a Brisbane judge.

The girls’ great-grandmother said the family were devastated but the girls’ mother would ‘‘dare not’’ return to Italy.

‘‘I’m pretty darn sure she will not go back because she knows what waits for her,’’ she said.

‘‘First of all, she’s a university student so she has no money whatsoever. I have none; I’m a pensioner. Her mother has none.’’

The great-grandmother said her daughter had rung in the early hours of yesterday morning to let her know the girls were being taken to the airport and boarded on the plane.

The phone call did not prepare her for the footage of the girls kicking and screaming this morning as she flicked through television channels.

‘‘It’s not over, those girls were terrified last night, they were scared out of their wits,’’ she said.

‘‘They were kicking, they were thrown on the ground.

‘‘I can understand now why people get upset about the way they treat animals when they export them because the way those girls were treated was worse than animals.’’

She said she felt ‘‘absolutely sick, absolutely gutted’’ when she first saw the images.

Footage shows the girls kicking Australian Federal Police officers trying to escort them to a car.

One screamed ‘‘leave me" and another screamed "no, you're going to hurt me".

The girls were taken from an undisclosed Sunshine Coast address about 7pm on Wednesday.

Their mother was at the address when they were taken away and was screaming out for her daughters and banging on the AFP cars.

Late on Wednesday night, the AFP confirmed a warrant had been issued for the return of the girls but could not comment further because it was an operational matter.

Their mother was also at the airport when the girls struggled with AFP officers who were trying to escort them on to a plane and could be heard screaming ‘‘I love you, baby’’.

‘‘I’m just praying, I don’t know what to think, I’m just terrified right now,’’ she told ABC 612 Brisbane

Earlier on Wednesday, a family court judge ordered the four sisters return to Italy ''as soon as possible''.

Justice Colin Forrest took six days to consider his judgment, having previously said he was conscious of the court's obligations under the Hague Convention to make prompt decisions.

The girls' mother cried as the hour-long judgment was read.

Justice Forrest ordered the children, aged between nine and 15, be returned to the care of a Department of Communities officer who would accompany them to Italy.

Whether their mother returns too was a matter between her, the father and the authorities, he said.

Justice Forrest sought and received an undertaking from the father that he would withdraw any criminal complaints against the mother in Italy.

Justice Forrest's decision followed an application from the mother to have the return order discharged last week.

The return order follows five months of legal wrangling. The children were due to fly back to Italy in May. They refused to go and their family went public with their story. The children then went on the run with their maternal great-grandmother.

They were found and placed into foster care until concerns for their emotional wellbeing saw them returned to the temporary custody of their mother on the Sunshine Coast.

The Hague Convention

The girls have not been forced to travel to Italy to live with their father, as reported in some sections of the media, but rather to have the case heard under Italian jurisdiction.

The father sought their return under the Hague Convention, which requires signatory countries to make arrangements to return children who have been "wrongfully removed'' from their country of primary residence.

In May, Family Law Practitioners Association of Queensland president Deborah Awyzio said as a signatory to the Hague Convention, Australia must show “a respect for other countries' laws, to avoid people taking matters into their own hands and deciding which country's law suits them the best for their particular situation”.

The girls' mother, who according to court documents met her husband during a study tour in Italy at age 16 and married him at age 17, had moved out of the couple's family villa in 2007 after the death of the their third daughter.

Under a “consensual separation agreement”, the pair shared custody of their remaining four children until the mother brought them to Australia, purportedly on holiday, in June 2010.

Their father invoked the Hague Convention, an international treaty against child abduction, in an effort to have them returned until custody issues could be settled under Italian law.

Ms Awyzio was unequivocal about the options facing the mother and her children.

“The avenue they travel down is that they return to Italy and the Italian courts make a decision based on all the evidence available to them,” she said.

“These children have grown up in Italy. They've only come to Australia in 2010 against the consent of their father. The mother suggested that the father consented. The court found that he did not consent to them coming to live in Australia. He consented to them coming to have a holiday in Australia and they failed to be returned after that holiday.

“So the Italian courts will make a decision based on all that evidence that the mother has to provide to court and they'll make a fully informed decision.”

Any further custody or parental issues will be heard in the Italian courts.

- Bridie Jabour, Amy Remeikis and Staff Reporters

The story Remaining custody dispute sisters board flight to Italy first appeared on Brisbane Times.

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