Gemma Wilkinson 'overwhelmed' as abducted Atiya returns

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Media captionAtiya's mother Gemma Wilkinson: "I just want to cuddle Atiya"

A mother reunited with her six-year-old daughter three years after the girl was abducted by her father and taken to Pakistan has said she feels "absolutely overwhelmed" at seeing her again.

Atiya Anjum-Wilkinson disappeared in November 2009 after going to stay with her father, Razwan Ali Anjum.

After being found in Pakistan, Atiya was returned to her mother Gemma Wilkinson in Manchester on Friday.

Ms Wilkinson, 32, said she just wanted to cuddle her daughter.

'Absolutely fine'

Atiya had last been seen when she was taken from her home in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, on her third birthday.

She was reunited with her mother at a Manchester hotel after being found in a five-week investigation which followed the intervention of Conservative North West MEP Sajjad Karim, who formally raised her abduction with the foreign minister of Pakistan in the European Parliament.

Mr Karim has said there is a "fundamental need" to review how similar cases are dealt with in the future.

After being reunited with her daughter, Ms Wilkinson said: "I'm just absolutely overwhelmed in seeing Atiya now and giving her a cuddle and a massive kiss.

"I did have a few fears that Atiya would be unsettled with the change and the flight but she's absolutely fine. She's trying to communicate and she's playing with the things we've bought for her, she's had a big smile on her face.

"Atiya was told that I was mummy and she said 'mummy' and smiled.

Image caption Atiya Anjum-Wilkinson went missing in 2009

"It's more than I could ever imagine or hope for.

"I can't explain that in words, to see her little face and know what she's actually like now, it's very emotional.

"I was very worried that she would either be upset or scared but she hasn't been."

Ms Wilkinson said her daughter looked "exactly the same as she did three years ago; she is just taller and a bit older".

She said: "I believe she is happy to be back, she has a big smile, she's playing nicely, she's talking.

"She will find things strange but she's home and she's loved and we'll take it day by day."

But Det Supt Phil Owen, from Greater Manchester Police's Child Protection Unit, warned that reintegrating Atiya into life with her mother would not be a quick process as she had been away for a long time and did not speak any English.

Extended family

Speaking after Atiya arrived on a flight into Manchester Airport on Friday evening, her mother said the events leading up to the reunion had been a "whirlwind".

She said: "We have gone from not knowing where Atiya is to finding out that we do know where Atiya is, to receiving pictures of Atiya and how she looks now, to Atiya coming here and Atiya actually being here."

The BBC's Aleem Maqbool said Atiya was found in the village of Daska, near Sialkot in eastern Pakistan.

Mr Karim, who used his contacts with the Pakistani authorities to help secure Atiya's return, saw the child with her mother shortly after they were reunited.

"It was just such a natural bonding between the two," he said.

"It seemed as though they had never really been apart, it was that natural mother-daughter bonding taking place.

"It only happened because Gemma was absolutely resolute in her determination. Despite three years and not getting very far, she stuck with it."

He said the Pakistani authorities used intelligence from local contacts to find Atiya within a matter of weeks.

He added: "There is a fundamental need to review the protocols that we have in place in situations of this sort."

Ms Wilkinson was told Atiya had been found on Christmas Day and photographs were sent to her of Atiya by the Pakistani authorities.

Father in jail

Ms Wilkinson, who split with Anjum in 2008, had made several appeals for information to find her daughter.

In her latest appeal last month, she described not knowing if Atiya was even alive as an "absolute nightmare".

Atiya's father Razwan Ali Anjum is serving a prison sentence for refusing to reveal his daughter's whereabouts.

Ms Wilkinson took legal action against her former partner in an attempt to force him to reveal where Atiya was.

In 2009, Anjum had said he was taking Atiya to Southport, but instead he took her to Lahore, Pakistan, and told Ms Wilkinson she would never see her again.

In April, he was handed a 12-month jail term by a High Court judge who found him in contempt of a High Court order instructing him to disclose Atiya's whereabouts.

The sentence was the fourth consecutive jail term to be imposed on Anjum. Judges have previously imposed jail terms of two years, 12 months and 12 months in the hope that he would provide the information which would allow Atiya to be reunited with her mother.

Ms Wilkinson said: "It's just been an absolute nightmare. I think my belief was never to give in, it's just been a very long time."

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