Ten Baptist workers to appear in Port-au-Prince court after attempting to take youngsters out of country. The Americans will appear in court tomorrow in Port-au-Prince after attempting to take 34 children out of Haiti, saying that they were trying to rescue them
Haitian children wait in a police car after a group of Americans was stopped trying to take them out of the country. Photograph: Reuters
The Baptist aid workers, from the Idaho-based New Life Children’s Refuge, were arrested on Friday as they attempted to leave the country for the Dominican Republic, about 45 miles from Port-au-Prince by road. They were reportedly taking the children, aged between three months and 12 years, to a safe house in the Dominican city of Cabarete.
Today the children were being cared for by the Austrian-based charity SOS Children’s Villages. It said most of the children were in “a very bad emotional state … Some of the children mentioned that they have parents. According to a 12-year-old girl, she and her family had been told she was going to a boarding school in Dominican Republic.”
The charity said a piece of paper with information about New Life promised: “We have a beautiful place for them to live with a soccer field, swimming pool and short walk to the ocean. We have authorisation from the government to bring orphanages children, babies up to 10 years old in the DR. Haitian friends or relatives can come to DR and visit the children and get updates through our website.”
A spokeswoman for New Life, Laura Silsby, told Associated Press: “In this chaos the government is in right now we were just trying to do the right thing.” She said the group planned to take 100 children by bus to a 45-room hotel at Cabarete that was being converted into an orphanage.
The arrests came amid fears that child traffickers could be taking advantage of the mayhem in Port-au-Prince to snatch children from hospitals or refugee camps. Unaccompanied children are a common sight in the city’s streets. Aid workers believe the quake may have created thousands of new orphans who are easy targets for criminal gangs. Unicef’s senior child protection adviser in Haiti, Bo Viktor Nylund, said:
“We have heard reports that there has been trafficking through the border and flights leaving the country but we have not been able to verify this.”
He said some abduction reports could probably be explained as well-wishers trying to help, while others could be linked to exploitation for sexual purposes. “Probably more of the first,” he said, but added: “Without parents it is a given that you are more vulnerable.”
Meanwhile, the suspension of medical evacuation flights by the US military has sparked fears that hundreds of lives could be lost because of inadequate treatment. The military suspended flights to the US on Wednesday after a reported dispute over where victims should be treated.
Florida’s governor, Charlie Crist, said that the state’s healthcare system was quickly reaching saturation.
The US ambassador in Haiti, Ken Merten, said yesterday that this was “obviously … something we are concerned about” but said he had not heard reports that Florida was refusing to receive Haitian earthquake victims.
Some aid workers in Port-au-Prince are turning their attention to the psychological effects on Haiti’s young people.
“They are afraid of what is going to happen,” said Pierre Biales, a French doctor, who is setting up sports and cultural activities for displaced children. Trauma could “get more complicated” unless it was addressed quickly, he said.
Port-au-Prince’s remaining churches and markets filled with Haitians today as life slowly returned to routine. “Life is not normal, but life goes on,” said David Francois, a 33-year-old resident of downtown Port-au-Prince where the stench of death has started to recede and tractors were demolishing fallen buildings.