Boy whose mother joined IS in Syria returns to dad in Italy

In this photo released by the Italian Police, 11-year-old Alvin, an Albanian boy who was taken to Syria by his mother when she joined the Islamic State group and then, following her death, has been freed from a crowded detention camp in northeastern Syria and returned home to Italy where his father lives, arrives at Rome’s Fiumicino airport Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. (Italian Police via AP)

ROME (AP) — An 11-year-old Albanian boy whose mother took him to Syria five years ago when she joined the Islamic State group returned on Friday to Italy for a joyous reunion with his father and sisters.

The boy, Alvin, wearing a red cap, smiled shyly as he was escorted by two policewomen at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport to an airport reception where his father, Afrim Berisha, and two older sisters took turns hugging him, long and tightly.

Red Cross and Red Crescent staff worked with Albanian and Italian government officials to facilitate his return from the crowded al-Hol detention camp in northeastern Syria where he was living without his family.

The father, an Albanian, lives in northern Italy. The boy has an Albanian passport and permission from Italian authorities to reside in Italy.

At an airport news conference after the reunion, officials said Alvin walks with a limp due to a leg injury from a bombing in territory conquered by IS in northeast Syria that killed his mother, her new companion in Syria, a child from that new relationship and another child of the companion.

“All five of them were traveling together when they were surprised by a bombing,” said Carabinieri Gen. Giuseppe Spina, from the paramilitary police force’s International Cooperation Service. “Alvin is alive by miracle.”

Carabinieri Col. Marco Rosi said the mother changed the boy’s last name, “she tried to make him forget his past,” including his family in Italy.

Alvin speaks Arabic and a few words of Albanian but forgot how to speak Italian, police official Maria Jose Falcicchia told reporters.

“He was always smiling” as authorities accompanied him back from Syria, she said. He slept, his head on her shoulder, all the time as they traveled by car on one stretch of the journey, she said.

“I assure you that children perceive when someone wants to help them,” she told reporters.

Police released a video and photos of the boy’s arrival in Rome, but to protect the family’s privacy, the boy and his father didn’t attend the news conference.

Alvin’s plight captured the attention of Italy after a TV news show reported on his father’s agonized efforts to bring him home. A crew from the program trekked to al-Hol with the father for a first, teary-eyed reunion with his son in the detention camp a few weeks ago.

But the father wasn’t immediately allowed by the Kurdish-led forces that run the camp to bring him home because no Albanian official was present.

Italian Red Cross officials said there are three orphanages in the area where Alvin had been living, filled with children ages 3 to 8 who, like him, need to be reunited with family.

Spina said Alvin’s repatriation from a detention camp in Syria was the first such case in Europe involving help from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Some 70,000 persons now reside in al-Hol camp, mostly women and children, including about 11,000 foreigners. The site has been the largest holding facility for people linked to Islamic State.

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