Haitian Officials Say Americans Tried To Take Kids
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An airlift out of Haiti is scheduled to resume today. Flights will take critically injured patients to American hospitals. Those flights stopped for several days, for reasons that werent clear. The U.S. military said some states refused to accept patients. The nearest state, Florida, denied turning anybody away.
INSKEEP: Also today, some Americans who say they tried to help in Haiti face a hearing. They were arrested over the weekend. The Americans allegedly tried to take more than 30 children out of the country. NPRs Mandalit del Barco reports from Port-au-Prince.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO: With so many children left homeless in Haiti after the earthquake, one group of Baptist missionaries from the U.S. say they wanted to rescue those who were abandoned and traumatized. From a charity based in Idaho, called the New Life Childrens Refuge, they came here to Port-au-Prince. The groups leader, Laura Silsby, says in an orphanage that had collapsed in the earthquake, they found 33 children ranging from 2 months to 12 years old.
Ms. LAURA SILSBY (New Life Childrens Refuge): The entire team deeply fell in love with these children. They are very, very precious kids that have lost their homes and their families and are so, so deeply in need of, most of all, Gods love and his compassion, and just a very nurturing setting.
DEL BARCO: Silsby says on Friday, they took the kids on a bus and headed to the Dominican Republic for a brand-new orphanage the church had built. But at the border, police stopped them, says Haitian communications administrator Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue.
Minister MARIE-LAURENCE JOCELYN LASSEGUE (Women's Affairs & Rights): The police of the frontier, they saw a bus with little children. And when they stopped the bus, they asked where are the papers, documents, of the children.
DEL BARCO: Aides to Haitis special police brigade for the protection of minors said the group did not follow the proper procedures needed for adoptions or evacuations. But Silsby says the group didn't think there would be a problem.
Ms. SILSBY: So our understanding was - is that we were told by a number of people, including Dominican authorities, that we would be able to bring the children across. So thats the mistake, obviously, we made, is we did not understand that there was additional paperwork required.
DEL BARCO: The Americans, including an 18-year-old girl, were brought to the judicial police station and have been held there ever since. Haitis prime minister says theyre being investigated for illegally trafficking children, though they have not been yet charged with a crime. Church leaders affiliated with the missionary say they only had the best intentions. Drew Ham is pastor of the Central Valley Church in Idaho.
Reverend DREW HAM (Pastor, Central Valley Church): We were hoping to help Haitian children who may be the victims of the slave trade - to help rescue them out of that scenario, and to give them some hope and a future.
DEL BARCO: But the group's religious proselytizing is looked upon suspiciously by some here in Haiti. The head of Haitis voodoo priest association reportedly said the plan to give each child a new Christian life was offensive.
And last week, fears that children could be sold or exploited have prompted the Haitian government to put new restrictions on international adoptions. The prime minister is required to personally authorize any children leaving the country.
UNICEF spokesman Kent Page says every effort should be made to reunite Haitian children with their parents or relatives. He says those parents may still be alive.
Mr. KENT PAGE (Spokesman, UNICEF): In any kind of circumstance, nobody can just walk into any country, pick up some babies and walk out with them, and not think that this is a correct thing to do. Because there can be people who do have good intentions - albeit na�ve in the execution - but there are also people who did not have good intentions. There are evil people. They are professional criminals. Its organized crime. And the situation here is ripe for them to exploit children and traffic them for the child sex trade, domestic servitude, or for illegal adoption.
DEL BARCO: The children were taken to an orphanage in Haiti with the hopes that they would reunite them with their families. And the Americans are expected to get a hearing today.
Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.