U.S. Mom Claims Refugee Status in Costa Rica after Kidnapping Daughter

The following was submitted by reader and Fathers and Families supporter, Karl Hindle.

The Costa Rican courts ordered the child back to America just in time for last Christmas, after having been kidnapped there by her non-custodial mother.  Trina Atwell formerly of Springfield, MO refused to comply with orders of the Costa Rican courts and filed the latest in a long line of appeals and legal requests.  That latest legal stratagem is raising eyebrows in both Washington D.C. and Costa Rica – Atwell is asking for refugee status for both her and the daughter she kidnapped, Emily Koyama.

The basis of her claim for refugee status?

Atwell claims domestic violence, drug abuse and sexual abuse by the child”s father, Roy Koyama.

Emily was abducted when she was 7 months old in February 2009 and since then the legal process has slowly ground on in two countries.  The international treaty governing international child abduction is the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (1980) and both the U.S. and Costa Rica are signatories.

But Costa Rica has so far not returned a single child under it – Emily Koyama was to be the very first.

Also raising eyebrows is the fact that all involved are 100% homegrown Americans. The only connection to Costa Rica is Atwell marriage to a Costa Rican; her sister also lives there.

Emily was born on July 5th 2008 in Missouri after Koyama and Atwell met in August 2007.  Atwell is the non-custodial mother of an older daughter who lives with her father, also in Missouri and whom Atwell abandoned after fleeing to Costa Rica.  A further complication is that Atwell was married to another man at the time she had Emily by Koyama. She and her Costa Rican husband, Henner Chavarria, have now apparently reconciled in Costa Rica.

Immediately after abducting Emily, Atwell claimed to be a victim of domestic violence and sexual abuse at the hands of Koyama.  She claims Koyama has a lengthy history of drug addiction and criminal convictions and was violent with her.

Koyama is candid about his past – a conviction for assault in 1992 as a result of a fight with another man.  But he vigorously denies ever being violent toward Atwell, being a drug addict or a child molester.  Koyama also points out the rulings by the Missouri court in his favor, which has also issued a warrant for the arrest of Atwell on international child kidnapping charges.

Koyama requested the return of Emily under the Hague Convention which was approved in August 2009, demonstrating the lengthy delays left-behind parents face dealing with this issue. At the same time, Koyama continued with custody proceedings in the Missouri courts which had jurisdiction over the matter.

The Missouri court granted full custody to Koyama, rejecting Atwell”s claims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and drug abuse, but Emily remains in Costa Rica.

In December 2010, Koyama also won the Hague Convention proceedings before the Costa Rican courts making that the second country to reject Atwell”s claims of violence and abuse.  Koyama prepared to welcome his little girl back home after almost 2 years in which Emily has learned Spanish as her native language and calls Atwell”s Costa Rican husband, “Daddy’.

The return home planned for December 14th was not to be.  No dream Christmas ending along the lines of Sean Goldman, who was repatriated on Christmas Eve 2009 after being abducted to Brazil by his mother some five years earlier.

Instead, on January 31st, the Costa Rican judge finally ordered Emily to be taken into protective foster care and returned to the United States, over the appeals of Atwell who claimed Emily did not now know her father and spoke only Spanish.

Atwell solicited the support of the Defensoria de los Habitantes in Costa Rica, an independent non-governmental organization which supports the rights of women.  On Atwell”s behalf, the Defensoria filed two writs of habeas corpus, the first of which was to deny the return of Emily as unconstitutional. That issue was determined at a hearing in San Jose on Friday, February 11th 2011 – the decision confirmed the return order.

However, in a perverse twist, Emily was also ordered released from foster care and her repatriation to America halted until the second claim for refugee status, was heard. Emily was released immediately back into the care of Atwell and her husband.  The refugee claim could take months, if not years, to finally be decided.

The case is creating a degree of controversy in Costa Rica, rightly concerned over its reputation as a haven for international child kidnappers.

One previous case involved a US woman, Chere Tomayko from Texas, who successfully claimed refugee status after kidnapping her child to Costa Rica.  Her claims of abuse were never checked by the Defensoria, while the  judge in Texas stated that abuse allegations had never been raised with him.

Despite the vigorous pleadings of the Defensoriaon behalf of Atwell, a similar path seems to be trodden here too. Ahmed Tabash, head of the DefensoriaPress Office concedes they have not asked the American judge about Atwell”s claims either.

Also troubling is that prior to the refugee filing, Atwell publically claimed she was returning voluntarily to the U.S. which raises an important question: just how frightened a refugee is Atwell if she was voluntarily prepared to return to America?

Meanwhile, Emily remains in Costa Rica back with her mother while Koyama waits. He is not alone.  There are another dozen or so American children who’ve been kidnapped to Costa Rica. Their parents and the U.S. Department of State have been watching this case since Emily”s return may open the door to other kidnapped children being repatriated.

Amidst mounting frustration at the legal gymnastics in Costa Rica, Roy Koyama now asks whether the U.S. Government will consider suspending trade and aid with Costa Rica? A similar move made against Brazil in 2009 by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) vetoed a trade deal with Brazil worth $2.75 billion and 48 hours later, Sean Goldman was on a plane back to New Jersey.

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