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Detention of Americans in Haiti Renews Adoption Concerns

February 1, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Ten American missionaries have been detained in Haiti for allegedly trying to take 33 children across the border into the Dominican Republican without the proper documents.

GWEN IFILL: The relief operation in Haiti, nearly three weeks after the quake.

Jeffrey Brown has our story.

JEFFREY BROWN: The U.S. military’s evacuation flights were back on schedule today for critically wounded earthquake victims.

DR. MIKE SHEEHAN, Haiti: It’s a great thing that the military transports have opened up again. We have had lots of patients who are critically ill that we have been caring for. But they need more care than we can provide here.

JEFFREY BROWN: The flights had been halted for nearly five days, after state officials in Florida warned that hospitals were becoming overwhelmed. They also raised concerns about getting reimbursed.

MAN: It was a frustrating to no end.

JEFFREY BROWN: Over the weekend, doctors struggled to get just a few patients out of the country on private planes.

All across Port-au-Prince today, aid groups handing out food ramped up efforts to prevent the chaos that marred earlier distributions. Haitians stood in orderly lines at 16 locations after getting vouchers from the U.N.’s World Food Program. Most went to women and the elderly.

MAN: In all our distributions all around the world, we will always look to distribute into — distribute food into the hands of women. But in terms of giving coupons to women, to give them access to the site, and then to collect food, this is a unique response to a unique challenge here in Haiti.

JEFFREY BROWN: U.N. peacekeepers helped hand out bags of rice and other staples. Before now, young men often seized the food. But officials said the new system went smoothly.

MAN: Since this new program started, and addressing mainly — asking women to come and receive this — the food and the assistance, it has been very orderly and we haven’t had any incidents.

JEFFREY BROWN: Also today, U.S. officials met with Haitian authorities about 10 American Baptist missionaries who may be charged with child trafficking. They were detained late Friday trying to take 33 Haitian children across the border into the Dominican Republic without proper documents.

LAURA SILSBY: We have been wrongly accused of something. I believe it is even trafficking, which is completely, completely not the truth.

JEFFREY BROWN: One of the Idaho-based missionaries, a diabetic, is being treated for what she called flu-like symptoms. She voiced hope today the charges would be dropped.

CHARIZA COULTER: I’m really praying that we will be able to take these kids out and we will be able to provide a safe and loving home for these kids, who have nothing.

JEFFREY BROWN: For their part, Haitian officials said the Americans may be sent home for prosecution.

MARIE LAURENCE JOCELYN-LASSEGUE, communications minister, Haiti (through translator): If we take into account that many buildings and institutions in Haiti have collapsed, yes, in this case, we are talking to the U.S. authorities, because they might have to be judged over there.

JEFFREY BROWN: Since the earthquake, the Haitian government has clamped down on overseas adoptions, worried that some children have parents who are still alive.

KENT PAGE, UNICEF: You can’t just go an take a child out of a country, no matter what country you are in. This is not what is — what is done.

JEFFREY BROWN: For now, the children taken from the missionaries have been put in an Austrian-run orphanage in Port-au-Prince. Meanwhile, in areas outside the capital, there was a happy moment today. Their schools reopened for the first time since the earthquake nearly three weeks ago.