This article tells the story of Amar Kanim, now an adult, who became known in the 1990s as "the little boy who had lost everything in a napalm attack" in Iraq. In 1991, Amar was caught in an attack on Shia Muslims in the city of Basra. He suffered excruciating burns in the attack and lost his family members. He was transported to a refugee camp in Iran where he later met a British politician, Emma Nicholson, who was on a fact-finding mission for the UK and who was visiting the hospital where Amar was admitted. Lady Nicholson was told by medical experts that Amar would need to undergo complicated surgery and began a fund-raising campaign to bring him to the UK.
“I had never seen a camera before. I hadn’t even seen a television. I didn’t really understand what was going on,” says Amar. “But I felt like I was safe with Emma. I felt I had to go to London. It was the only way I would get the help I needed. I had nobody else, so I just went along with it.”
“I had no idea that Amar would stay in England,” reflects Lady Nicholson today. “I anticipated that we would find some relatives and he would go back to Iraq once his surgery was completed. But that didn’t happen because, as soon as the paediatricians at Westminster Hospital saw him, they said that if Amar was moved again, he would die.”
According to the article, authorities first attempted to place Amar in an Iraqi-British foster family in London, but Amar did not adapt well to city life so he went to live with Lady Nicholson and her husband, who became Amar's legal guardians, in rural Devon. Amar chose not to be adopted, however, as he retained hope that he would find some relatives and return to Iraq.
Amar describes mostly positive memories of his time in Devon, but notes “I felt very isolated at times. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone. It’s the most horrible position to be in because, without a family, you feel like you don’t belong to anyone. You feel like you’re born out of nothing.”
Now in his 30s, Amar began receiving social media messages from someone claiming to be his mother and enlisted the help of BBC reporters to investigate her claim. They are able to make contact with the woman, whose description of Amar's life before the attack and the details of the attack itself match Amar's memory. “There were rumours that he’d been injured and carried away by local soldiers," she said, explaining what happened after the attack. "Years later I heard a story that he might have been taken to Europe. I’ve been trying to find him for 30 years.” She explained that she found a photo on the internet of Amar arriving in London a couple of years ago. “Since then we’ve tried to contact charities, embassies and government officials, but nobody has helped us. We put an advert in the paper. We have approached journalists in the street. But it’s very hard for people like us to meet officials in Iraq.”
The woman agreed to take a DNA test to confirm that she is Amar's biological mother and the results came back positive. Amar travelled to Iraq to meet her and they enjoyed an emotional reunion after nearly thirty years.