Latin America

U.S. Church Members To Appear In Haitian Court

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Ten Americans will appear in a Haitian courtroom Monday — they're accused of trying to take almost three dozen children across the border to the Dominican Republic. NPR's Mandalit del Barco updates host Guy Raz about that incident and about the latest news about food distribution in the quake-ravaged nation.

GUY RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

Ten Americans will appear in a Haitian courtroom tomorrow. They were arrested over the weekend and accused of trying to take almost three dozen children from the quake-stricken country across the border into the Dominican Republic.

NPR's Mandalit del Barco is with us from Port-au-Prince.

Mandalit, who are those Americans, and what did they allegedly do?

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: Well, you know, I was at the judicial police station in Port-au-Prince, where the Americans are being held. I was there today. And apparently, they came to Haiti from a charity based in Idaho called New Life Children's Refuge, and their mission was to try to rescue abandoned and traumatized children.

So they came here and picked up 33 kids from two months to 12 years old from an orphanage that had collapsed during the earthquake. They were headed in a bus into the Dominican Republic, where they wanted to take them to another orphanage, when the police stopped them.

Now, a spokeswoman from the Minister of Culture told me border police asked them to see identification papers for the children, but they didn't have them, and that's when they arrested them on charges of child trafficking.

One of the women from the group, Laura Silsby, said they had the best intentions, and she talked to reporters last night.

Ms. LAURA SILSBY (New Life Children's Refuge): The entire team deeply fell in love with these kids that have lost their homes and their families. We were told by a number of people, including Dominican authorities, that we would be able to bring the children across. The mistake obviously we made is we did not understand that there was additional paperwork required.

DEL BARCO: Now, government officials here say they thought the church members may have been part of an illegal adoption scheme. In fact, there is such a fear that children will be sold illegally, that the prime minister is now required to personally authorize any children who are leaving the country.

RAZ: Mandalit, bring us up to date on the relief efforts there. Are there still problems with food distribution?

DEL BARCO: Well, up to now, food distribution, like a lot of things here, has been rather chaotic. But today, the relief groups tried a new approach. They handed out color-coded coupons so each family could get 55-pound bags of rice. And the idea was that the rice would be given to the most needy in 16 parts of the city, mostly to women to avoid trouble.

There are U.N. and U.S. military patrols out at these sites. But as it turns out, only nine of the sites opened today. Some of them were thought to be too dangerous, and word didn't get out to everybody in need. So when the food ran out - that is 160,000 bags - a lot of people were, apparently, upset. And our reporters say it did get a bit heated in some parts of the city.

Now, the goal is to feed two million people in the next two weeks, though some of them had other food sources. But there are still a lot of hungry people here in Port-au-Prince, Guy.

RAZ: That's NPR's Mandalit del Barco from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Mandalit, thanks so much.

DEL BARCO: Thank you, Guy.

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