Huda Abdul Gader, who lives in Straiton, is desperate to be reunited with the girls – now aged ten, seven and six.
She has won court orders both here and in Libya saying the children should be returned to her. But the absence of law and order in remote parts of strife-torn Libya means little can be done to enforce the rulings.
Huda, 34, says British diplomats have promised that her case will be a top priority once order is restored, but until then all she can do is wait and hope. “It’s heartbreaking,” she said.
All she has is occasional pictures of the girls sent to her by friends near to where they are living with their father, Abdul Mutalid, in the south of Libya.
He seized the girls – Fatima, Reem and Jenan – in February 2011 while he was with them and Huda at her uncle’s house in Tripoli before she was due to fly back with them to the UK.
Huda said: “He was playing with them and he asked for a cup of tea. I went to make it and was waiting for the water to boil when my uncle came in and said ‘Where are the girls?’.
“My heart just sank to my stomach. I ran out to see. The girls weren’t there, he wasn’t there and the car wasn’t there.”
Abdul had taken the girls back to southern Libya and would not answer any calls.
“My uncle said the next day we would go straight to his lawyer and sort it out – but that was the day the Libyan revolution started.
“Tripoli was in lockdown, there were police everywhere. We were driving into the city and eventually got my uncle’s lawyer on the phone. He asked where we were and told us to go home straight away.
“There had been revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. It was only a matter of time before it was going to come to Libya.
“The British embassy was getting everyone out but I refused to go because I wanted to get my girls. The embassy was leaving and they told me I’d be on my own.
“The UN was bombing Tripoli and Libya was arresting everyone with a British passport.
“The house next door to us was searched and they were around my uncle’s house too, so in the end I had to leave – my uncle managed to get us a way out through Tunisia.
“I came back to the UK a broken woman and suffered from depression and anorexia. At one point, I was so weak I nearly died.”
Huda divorced Abdul and has been awarded custody of the girls both here and in Libya, but because of the continuing chaos there is no-one to enforce it.
“He was given the custody papers, he knows he has to give up the girls. They kept giving him ten days but nothing happened.”
Huda has visited her sister who lives just ten minutes away from where the girls are living but Abdul would not let her see them.
She also fears for the girls’ safety if any force is attempted. She said: “Gaddafi handed out guns and weapons to people all over the place. My ex got a gun and he has sent a letter to my dad’s cousin saying he would happily kill the girls if I tried to take them away.”
Huda was born in Libya but came to the UK with her family when she was six months old – her father was a critic of the Gaddafi regime which was overthrown in 2011. The family lived in Perth until Huda was seven and then moved to Edinburgh. She went to James Gillespie’s School, then studied art and design and fashion at Telford College.
Then in 2004 she became engaged to Abdul, a relative of her mother’s in Libya.
“It was like an arranged marriage,” she says. “People said it was natural and a lot of my friends were getting married. I agreed to it.”
They were married in Libya in November 2005 and everything seemed good at first. “It was perfect,” she said. “He was really nice to me.”
The couple lived between the UK and Libya but Huda says the relationship quickly came under strain once the girls were born.
After Fatima’s birth, Huda was suffering from postnatal depression. “He never held the baby and he was very distant. When the baby cried at night he asked me to take it downstairs and not to disturb him.”
Abdul wanted them all to spend more time in Libya.
On one visit to Libya she said he locked her in the house every time he went out, would not allow her to go shopping and hit and punched her when they had arguments.
“He told me ‘Do as you’re told and don’t make me angry, then things will be OK’.”
She says she now has to hope for the situation in Libya to improve.
“The British embassy says my case will be a priority when things settle.
“Everyone in Libya is frustrated at the present situation but for me it goes further – I don’t just want my country back I want my girls back too. I want to hold them in my arms.
“They won’t know me – Jenan was only a year old and Reem was two. Fatima was four – she might remember me, I don’t know. I just want them back.”
She said Abdul had remarried now and has at least one child with his new wife. “The girls are living with his sister next door. He has built a massive wall all the way round the house. It’s almost like a prison.
“Some neighbours sometimes take photos and send them to me so I can see them growing up.
“I have a Facebook page where I write them letters on their birthdays and some day I hope they will see them.”
Edinburgh South Labour MP Ian Murray said: “This is a devastating situation. She has court orders both here and in Libya saying the children should be living with her in Edinburgh. But this is a rural part of Libya where there is no law enforcement in place and until the situation changes it’s difficult to see how she can get the children back.
“The Foreign Office and I will give her as much support as we possibly can to get this resolved.”