PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti—The 10 U.S. citizens detained in Haiti after allegedly trying to whisk more than 30 children out of the earthquake-ravaged country could be charged with kidnapping and child trafficking, Haiti police and judicial officials said Sunday.
Through statements to the press and online, the Americans and the missionary group sponsoring them have denied wrongdoing.
Aides to Renel Costumé, head of Haiti's special police brigade for the protection of underage minors, said a preliminary investigation showed the U.S. group, composed of five women and five men, had fulfilled none of the administrative procedures necessary for adoption or health-related evacuation of the children, who ranged in age from two months to 12 years.
"They had absolutely no document," said another Haitian law-enforcement official who asked not to be named because he wasn't allowed to talk publicly about the case.
The Americans were arrested as they tried to go through the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Haitian officials said. As of Sunday, the group was detained at Haiti's police headquarters, which are also used by the Haitian government as temporary offices since the presidential palace and most ministries were destroyed in the Jan. 12 earthquake.
U.S. diplomats have visited the detained Americans and are in communication with Haitian authorities about the matter, according to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince.
The detained Americans were part of a fledgling nonprofit Christian ministry called the New Life Children's Refuge that was apparently attempting to move as many as 100 Haitian orphans to a new orphanage it was establishing in the Dominican Republic. It had started the program before the temblor struck, according to Drew Ham, a pastor at Meridian, Idaho's Central Valley Baptist Church, where most of the detained Americans worshiped.
Among those detained were Laura Silsby, the group's executive director; Charisa Coulter, its vice president; and Carla Thompson, its coordinator of missions. Also detained were two who were still in their teens, Silas Thompson, 19, and Nicole Lankford, 18, who was accompanying her mother, Corinna Lankford. Most were from Idaho, but a few live in Kansas and Texas, including Jim Allen of Amarillo and Drew Culberth of Topeka.
"Our team was falsely arrested," said a statement for New Life released on the Web site of the Central Valley Baptist Church, "and we are doing everything we can from this end to clear up the misunderstanding that has occurred in Port-au-Prince."
Mr. Ham, the assistant pastor, said, "From what we understood, they had all the paperwork they thought they needed. But they got to the border and they did not have one of the pieces of paper they apparently needed, and next thing they knew they were being arrested."
Referring to Ms. Silsby, who founded New Life Children's Refuge, he said, "Her dream was to help children who were in danger of this child trafficking problem, so it's ironic that the very problem they were trying to combat is what they were arrested for."
Mel Coulter, father of Charisa Coulter, New Life's vice president, said he first learned his 24-year-old daughter was in trouble on Thursday evening, when in a series of patchy phone calls she told him that she had been detained. The family was panicked, Mr. Coulter said, because it was unclear from the conversations whether his daughter had been detained alone or with the rest of the group.
"She was pretty frantic," he said. "She didn't have food or water, and at that point we were very concerned" in part because she suffers from diabetes.
On Saturday he received a text message from her informing him that she had been taken into custody by Haitian authorities on suspicion on child trafficking, and was set to appear in court on Monday, he said.
Mr. Coulter said his daughter works as a nanny to Ms. Silsby, the Idaho businesswoman who leads the group. He said they had been working diligently on plans to establish an orphanage in the Dominican Republic prior to the quake.
When the catastrophe occurred, those plans were put in overdrive, he said, and they launched an impromptu drive to collect donations of medicine, toys and clothing for Haitian children from local volunteers and religious groups.
On the Web site of another affiliated church, the Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho, the group said it had been in the process of buying land and building an orphanage, school and church in Magrante on the Dominican Republic's north coast for as many as 200 orphans. But until those facilities were built, it planned to lease a 45-room hotel to house up to 100 orphans that it planned to gather on the trip to Haiti that ended in arrest.
Mr. Coulter has since been in touch U.S. government officials, who have tried to ensure that the detained Americans receive proper treatment as they await their court hearing.
"I hope the Haitian government realizes that these folks had the best of intentions," he said. "Their interest was deep in their heart, and I sincerely think they thought they had the right documentation."
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haitian police have arrested 10 U.S. citizens caught trying to take 33 children out of the earthquake-stricken country in a suspected illicit adoption scheme, authorities said on Saturday.
The five men and five women were in custody in the capital, Port-au-Prince after their arrests on Friday night. There are fears that traffickers could try to exploit the chaos and turmoil following Haiti's January 12 earthquake quake to engage in illegal adoptions.
One of the suspects, who says she is leader of an Idaho-based charity called New Life Children's Refuge, denied they had done anything wrong.
The suspects were detained at Malpasse, Haiti's main border crossing with the Dominican Republic, after Haitian police conducted a routine search of their vehicle.
Authorities said the Americans had no documents to prove they had cleared the adoption of the 33 children -- aged 2 months to 12 years -- through any embassy and no papers showing they were made orphans by the quake in the impoverished Caribbean country.
"This is totally illegal," said Yves Cristalin, Haiti's social affairs minister. "No children can leave Haiti without proper authorization and these people did not have that authorization."
U.S. authorities could not be reached for immediate comment on the arrests.
But Laura Sillsby from the Idaho group told Reuters from a jail cell at Haiti's Judicial Police headquarters, "We had permission from the Dominican Republic government to bring the children to an orphanage that we have there."
"We have a Baptist minister here (in Port-au-Prince) whose orphanage totally collapsed and he asked us to take the children to the orphanage in the Dominican Republic," Sillsby added.
"I was going to come back here to do the paperwork," Sillsby said. "They accuse us of children trafficking. This is something I would never do. We were not trying to do something wrong."
In addition to outright trafficking in children, authorities have voiced fears since the quake that legitimate aid groups may have flown earthquake orphans out of the country for adoption before efforts to find their parents had been exhausted.
As a result, the Haitian government halted many types of adoptions earlier this month.
There are no reliable estimates of the number of parentless and lost children at risk in Haiti's quake-shattered capital.
News of the arrests came as the UN's food agency prepared to launch a massive food effort targeted at vulnerable women in a bid to ease some of the chaos surrounding the relief effort for the January 12 disaster.
Police seized five men and five women with US passports, as well as two Haitians, as they tried to cross into the neighboring Dominican Republic with 33 children, aged between two months to 14 years, late Friday, Haitian authorities said.
Border police "saw a bus with a lot of children. Thirty-three children. When asked about the children's documents, they had no documents," Haitian Culture and Communications Minister Marie Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue said.
Speaking in her detention cell near Port-au-Prince airport, Laura Silsby, head of the Idaho-based New Life Children's Refuge charity, said the group's aims were entirely altruistic.
"We came here literally to just help the children. Our intentions were good," Silsby told AFP. "We wanted to help those who lost parents in the quake or were abandoned."
But the director of the Haitian center where the children are being cared for said earlier Sunday that most of the youngsters insist they still have family.
Some of the older children had spoken to aid workers and "say their parents are alive, and some of them gave us an address and phone numbers," said Patricia Vargas.
The US embassy in Port-au-Prince said the group were being held for "alleged violations of Haitian laws related to immigration."
Haitian officials have warned that child traffickers could take advantage of the chaos after the quake, and that legitimate adoption agencies may rush to take orphans before proper checks have been conducted.
"Everything is disorganized since January 12 and some people are using it to devote themselves to a veritable trade in children," said Jeanne-Bernard Pierre, director of Haiti's Institute of Social Welfare.
Workers from aid groups and other non-governmental and religious organizations have poured into Haiti in the aftermath of the quake which is believed to have killed some 170,000 people. Related article: Big business urged to help
Amid fears that food is not reaching enough people, the World Food Program said it would open 16 fixed collection sites in Port-au-Prince on Sunday, aiming to feed two million people in two weeks.
Only female quake survivors will be allowed at the sites to avoid scenes at chaotic mobile handouts that have sometimes seen children and women muscled aside in the scramble for bags of rice, beans and cooking oil.
The aid effort suffered a further setback over the weekend, after the US military stopped flying injured Haitians to the United States for treatment because of a dispute over costs.
The governor of Florida has asked the US government to share the financial burden on his state's hospitals, putting a block on flights that have so far carried more than 500 people with spinal injuries, burns and other wounds.
The United States has spearheaded relief efforts since the 7.0-magnitude quake, which also injured around 200,000 and left more than one million homeless.
The aid effort has, however, drawn criticism for a lack of coordination. Related article: Historic Haiti market burns
Haitians, many of whom are living in squalid makeshift tent camps, have complained that relief has been slow to reach them on the ground.
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive made a fresh appeal for 200,000 tents before the country's rainy season starts, most likely in May.
"We are very aware of the consequences to all of the people on the streets if it's starting to rain," Bellerive told CNN, adding that the government only had 3,500 tents so far.
Diseases such as diarrhea, measles, and tetanus are rising in tent camps, prompting UN agencies and the government to prepare a mass vaccination drive, while survivors also face rising insecurity with reports of rape and violence.
Aid officials have warned meanwhile that the reconstruction process in Haiti, already the poorest country in the Americas before the quake, will take decades. _________________ A la guerre comme a la guerre или вторая редакция Забугорнова
Да, гнусная история! Едет автобус, в нём 33 ребёнка в возрасте от 2-х месяцев до 14-ти лет, и десять американских баптистов, 5 мужчин и 5 женщин, пытается пересечь границу.
Их, натурально, останавливает полиция, элементарно спрашивают документы. Эти баптисты никаких документов на детей предъявить не могут, я так понял что вообще никаких. Неизвестно даже, сироты эти дети или нет, некоторые из детей говорят что у них есть родители.
Баптисты заявляют что собираются перевезти детей в соседнюю страну чтобы поместить их в интернат, который ещё не построен. Ну а покамест разместить детей в какой-то гостинице.
Всё это бред какой-то напоминает.... _________________ A la guerre comme a la guerre или вторая редакция Забугорнова