nightmare | 

Irish mother on her search for her four children in Tunisia

‘The last time I saw them was in 2019’

Elaine Ryan's four children Kais, Sihem, Hssine and Khaled. Photo: Tipp FM /


An Irish mother has vowed to stay in Tunisia until she locates her children and has court orders enforced to allow her to bring them home.

Elaine Ryan has been trapped in a three year nightmare in the North African country after she went on holiday with her four children in August 2019 but then had them taken from her by her husband.

The Tipperary woman said she has not seen her children, Kais, Sihem, Hssine and Khaled in three years - and cannot get them back to Ireland despite court orders in her favour by the Tunisian authorities.

Almost €20,000 has been raised to support Elaine and her fight for her children by her friend, Lisa Gleeson, and Irish supporters.

The Portroe mother managed to secure a video-link call with the children last February - and admitted she has been heartbroken by her ordeal.

She said she is afraid that if she returns to Ireland without her children her plight may fade from the headlines.

"I feel that if I go home, this won't be taken seriously enough over here," she said.

"I made a promise that I would not leave without my children. I want to keep that promise."

Elaine said she had absolutely no inkling before a family holiday to her husband's native Tunisia in August 2019 that there were any problems.

However, once they arrived in Tunisia her husband brought up the idea of leaving the children with his family there.

Elaine said she immediately quashed that idea - and insisted the children would return to their Irish home.

However, the Tipperary woman was then shocked when her husband confronted her with legal papers - and his family then took the children from her.

She thought the children were being temporarily taken from the apartment until the issue between her husband and herself was resolved - but was shocked to realise the children were taken to a different address.

Elaine has not been allowed to have care of the children since then.

The youngsters are now aged from four to nine years.

It was only later she realised the true reason her husband only booked their flights one-way to Tunisia - having claimed before they left that it was cheaper buying separate one-way tickets than a return package.

Elaine now believes her husband had the entire seizure planned.

She does not know the precise location of the children - and, despite two court orders in her favour by Tunisian magistrates, she has not been able to secure her children.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the international lockdowns also worked in favour of her husband.

His family retains custody of the four children despite the two Tunisian court orders - and a letter from Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney asking why the Tunis authorities have not complied with legal requirements to get the children to Ms Ryan.

Elaine recalled to TippFM the last heartbreaking words she spoke to her daughter.

"(I told her) that I loved her very much and that she was the star of my heart," she said.

"Because she was the oldest I said she had to be prepared that Daddy might take ye - and I might not be able to find ye."

"That was the last time I saw my children and that was back in 2019."

Elaine has been entirely dependent on financial support from her family - and the back of a special fundraising appeal to support her campaign to find and repatriate her children.

Lisa Gleeson said a mother's love knows no bounds.

"This holiday turned into every mother's worst nightmare and Elaine is still in this nightmare on her own in a country fighting to get her children home," she said.

"She took a big risk going looking for them on her own in this country and she doesn't feel very safe."

"A mother's love has no bounds - Elaine is proof of this and will do anything to get them home."

Today's Headlines

More World News

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices