Haiti holds six US-bound kids

2010-02-23 12:00

SIX US-bound orphans seized by Haitian police despite having their papers in order remained in a government-run nursery more than two days later, the orphanage director has said.

The seizure of the orphans and the brief detention of their escorts on Saturday came amid fears that foreigners are exploiting post-earthquake chaos to illegally take children from the country – a perception fuelled by an ongoing case involving 10 US Baptist missionaries.

“The youngest has developed diarrhoea and is very dehydrated,” said Jan Bonnema of Prinsburg, Minnesota, founder and director with her husband, Bud, of the Children of The Promise orphanage, where the six children originated.

Bonnema, whose orphanage is located in the northern city of Cap-Haitien, said yesterday that the children had been bound for the US via Miami, where their adoptive parents were waiting for them.

Police detained the children and the four women as they were about to depart from Port-au-Prince airport on Saturday, according to Bonnema.

“They were just inside the terminal. They hadn’t gone through immigration,” she said. They were waiting for US Embassy staff to come with adoption papers signed by Haiti’s prime minister.

“A large group of Haitians attacked them,” Bonnema added. “They were swearing at them and saying, ‘these are Haitian babies. You cannot take them. You are child trafficking’.”

US and Haitian officials had earlier confirmed the detentions but without providing details.

Bonnema said: “Our staff were not allowed to stay with the children. They’re very traumatised.”

She said US and Haitian officials were expected to meet today to resolve the situation.

US Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota has intervened on behalf of the women. She told AP that the orphanage was legitimate and said the adopting families in Minnesota have been working with her office.

“The main thing now is to make sure the kids are reunited with the women and get to the families that have been waiting for them,” she said.

Unicef says Haiti had about 380 000 orphans prior to the quake – nearly 4% of its population – and an estimated half were not true orphans. Child trafficking is a major problem.

After the quake, the government halted all adoptions by foreigners that had not been approved beforehand – and said children only could leave the country with papers signed by Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive.

Bonnema said Bellerive had indeed signed the proper papers.

“The Haitian police didn’t believe that it was the Haitian prime minister’s signature,” she said.

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