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Abandoned screaming on a sinking refugee boat, the toddler saved from ISIS killers; EXPOSED: Evil trade of innocents sold for jihadi guns and bombs.

Byline: EXCLUSIVE From MATTHEW DRAKE Chief Reporter in Alexandroupolis, Northern Greece

FIGHTING for breath between enormous sobs, this little girl was found alone on a sinking ramshackle wooden boat, screaming for her mother.

The petrified two-year-old refugee was fleeing murderous child traffickers who wanted to sell her - and Islamic State butchers who would have hacked her to pieces in the name of jihad or sold her to pay for guns and bombs.

All she wanted was her mummy as her naval rescuers - with tears in their own eyes - plucked her to safety off the Greek coast.

The toddler, called Rida, was rushed trembling with exhaustion to a child rescue centre, seemingly yet another orphan of the storm of madness engulfing the Middle East.

A storm that has driven thousands to make the trip across the Mediterranean on makeshift boats to what they hope will be freedom. Often with deadly results.

But out of hell, sometimes comes hope. Today Rida is playing happily with toys at the Arsis child rescue centre in the port of Alexandroupolis. And they have found her mum.

Centre manager Ermioni Stamati told the Sunday Mirror: "The baby was discovered on the sinking boat all alone and stranded. Her long curly hair was full of seaweed.

"She was very traumatised, screaming for her mother. It was extremely difficult for everyone. " smugglers An Iraqi identification card was found in the wreck which revealed the toddler's name and date of birth. Ermioni said: "Nobody knew at first how she ended up where she did. There had been other refugees on the boat but they say they had no idea about her."

Often in the mad scramble into refugee vessels leaving Turkey, parents are separated from their children - and it is then the youngsters can fall prey to traffickers.

In Rida's case, it seems her sinking craft saved her from that fate as all the other passengers fled.

Ermioni says: "Traffickers have been buying and selling young children throughout this migrant crisis. We were later told the child had travelled with smugglers who claimed she was a gift to them."

Alexandroupolis has become a gateway for those fleeing war-torn countries like Iraq, Syria and Libya.

Staff at the Arsis centre pieced together Rida's background after her arrival three weeks ago.

Her Turkmen tribe is one of those being persecuted by IS.

Rida's mum was eventually tracked down in Greece. She feared her daughter had died in the wreck.

Ermioni said: "We searched for two weeks to trace her parents.

"We believed we had no hope and her mother must have been kidnapped by IS. But we found her."

Speaking of the crisis in the Med, Ermioni said: "Many children have either been kidnapped by traffickers along the journey or their parents are tricked.

"Traffickers then sell on the youngsters. In this case the baby and her mother could not stay in Iraq as they would have been killed or sold by IS butchers. And as countries like Iraq, Libya and Syria are at war internally there are no embassies or passports."

Ermioni said the centre had already reunited more than 40 youngsters with their parents.

But she said others were not as fortunate as Rida. "We had one case where a mother and her two daughters tried to cross the Evros river and the boat sank," said Ermioni.

"The woman came to us looking for her daughters and we were unable to help her. Eventually the body of one was found and she had to identify her at the morgue.

"She has never found the body of her other daughter. To reunite the children with their parents takes on average about six months. If the parents are dead we search for other family members.

"Many of the people we see either want to claim welfare in Sweden or get work in Germany.

"None want to stay in Greece because we are in crisis."

Alexandroupolis has become a gateway for migrants trying to pass undetected into the country from its land border with Turkey.

The river Evros, which runs along the 93-mile frontier, has become another death trap for migrants desperate to enter the EU.

At dawn on Friday, the Sunday Mirror watched refugees trying to make the dangerous crossing in a makeshift boat. A police source said: "Gang masters on the Turkish side sell these people inadequate plastic boats to make the crossing.

"The problem is that the rafts are not fit for the journey and many sink. It is a quick flowing deep river and the mud beneath is heavy."

An extra 1,800 police officers have been deployed to patrol the Evros. And a fence with thermal sensors has been put along sections of the border.

But still the death toll continues to mount. Which makes the miracle of little Rida even more precious.

matthew.drake@sundaymirror.co.uk COMMENT: PAGE 14 We have changed the two-year-old's name for legal reasons.

CAPTION(S):

Refuge: for orphans in Arsis Centre

Safe: with Ermioni

Miracle: Rida found alone on sinking boat
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUGR
Date:Apr 26, 2015
Words:841
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