Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Haiti Bars 6 Children From Leaving for U.S.


Haitian officials barred six children bound for adoption in the U.S. from boarding a flight to Miami over the weekend, amid heightened fears of child trafficking.

A U.S. government official confirmed that the six children, who had been assigned to American adoptive families before the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, had all their paperwork in order, including travel permission from the Haitian prime minister. However, "the Haitian authorities didn't believe or trust the prime minister's signature was authentic," the U.S. official said.

Officials in Haiti couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

The children are now living in a tent city, apparently operated by the Haitian social-services agency, according to a senior official of the Children of the Promise orphanage in Cap Haïtien, about 90 miles from Port-au-Prince. "I am baffled our children could be taken away in this way," said Executive Director Jan Bonnema, who is American.

On Friday, the U.S. Embassy notified staff at the orphanage that the six children, ranging in age from 1 to 5 years old, were cleared to leave Haiti.

The orphanage's field director and two other foreign escorts, including an adoptive parent of one of the children, flew to the capital with the six children. While waiting at the airport for a U.S. Embassy official to bring the paperwork and for their chartered international flight to Miami on Saturday, the foreigners were approached by Haitians, Ms. Bonnema said. "Haitians attacked our people verbally, saying they were child trafficking," she said. "They called the Haitian police."

The group, which hadn't yet cleared customs, was taken to a police station, where over several hours they tried, with the help of a U.S. Embassy official, to persuade Haitian authorities that the children's documents were authentic, according to Ms. Bonnema and a U.S. official. "The kids were sobbing," Ms. Bonnema said.

Haitian authorities then took the children to a tent city, she said. Staff from the orphanage have been allowed to visit the tent city, where conditions are poor, but they haven't been allowed to stay there, she said.

Sarah Thacker, the adoptive mother of one of the children, said in an email that she feared for their health. She has visited the tent city. "We are concerned because the baby we were escorting is getting dehydrated and that can be so dangerous. The other kids have become unhappy and withdrawn," she wrote.

Ms. Bonnema said the orphanage had found a baby boy named Albert abandoned in an outhouse when he was a newborn and had nursed him back to health. Now, Ms. Bonnema said, orphanage staff who have visited the tent city say the 1-year-old "is sick with diarrhea and his eyes are sunken."

In an email reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, a U.S. Embassy staff member told Ms. Bonnema that the U.S. ambassador and deputy chief of mission have attempted to schedule a meeting with the Haitian prime minister, but haven't yet received a response.

Source: WSJ

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