MIAMI (AP) — Six Haitian orphans arrived in the United States on Wednesday, four days after Haitian police seized them out of fear they were being kidnapped.
The children arrived on a charter flight to Miami International Airport. They were being taken to a shelter, and their new parents were allowed to take the children home Thursday, according to Jan Bonnema, the Minnesota-based founder of the Children of The Promise orphanage.
On Feb. 20, a group of 20 men blocked four women accompanying the orphans to the airport, shouting: “You can’t take our children!”
Police briefly detained the women, and the orphans – ages 1-5 – spent three nights sleeping on the ground in a tent city. The U.S. Embassy official carrying the documents needed to take them through immigration had been running late.
Sara Vanzee and her husband, Tim, had been waiting for their new 13-month-old son Albert to arrive. They understand the suspicions in Haiti given recent cases, but said their ordeal has been stressful.
“Our hope is that they’re OK with it, that they can see that we absolutely love these children and that we want to provide for them,” said Vanzee, who is from the U.S. Midwest.
Such fears of child trafficking have made it harder than ever for impoverished Haitian children to leave the Western Hemisphere’s poorest land.
The concerns were fueled by the arrest last month of 10 U.S. missionaries trying to take a busload of 33 children to the Dominican Republic without proper documentation. It turned out none of the children were orphans, and the Americans were arrested; two – Laura Silsby and Charisa Coulter – remain in jail in Port-au-Prince.
Bernard Saint-Vil, the judge hearing their case, said Wednesday that he expects to decide their fate this week. He was waiting to hear from a judge in northern Haiti about a visit to orphanages the women made last year, and has asked judicial police to investigate whether Pastor Jean Sainvil – who helped them recruit some of the children – indeed has orphanages in Haiti, as he has claimed.
Thousands of desperate Haitian parents, unable to care for their own children, have eagerly given the youngsters away in hopes of giving them a better life. At the same time, they are terrified they will be tricked by predators who will enslave or sexually abuse the children.
Haiti’s government immediately halted new adoptions in the chaos that followed the Jan. 12 quake, allowing only those already approved to move forward.
That chill hardened into a freeze after the Feb. 20 incident. A U.S. State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity, said the latest drama held up the departure of 50 orphans approved for U.S. adoption.
It took the U.S. ambassador and Haiti’s prime minister to iron out on Tuesday what turned out to be an ugly misunderstanding, and the children were handed over to the Embassy.
“They just kept singing and playing,” said Maria O’Donovan, field director of the orphanage in northern Haiti where they had been living before the weekend. “They were so happy.”
Two of the awaiting parents, Josh and Katy Manges, have been in the process of adopting 2-year-old Malachi since he was a few months old. Born with a deformity in his thigh bone, the boy was abandoned at a Haitian hospital when he was just a few weeks old.
They get videos and letter updates from his caretakers. When the Manges flew to South Florida on Feb. 19, they envisioned a happy airport reunion with their son before flying home to Chambersburg, Pa., southwest of Harrisburg.
When they heard that Malachi and other orphans had been detained by the government, they were stunned. They saw pictures of the little boy in a tent being cared for by young girls.
“He was sleeping on a dirt floor, no diapers, no wipes, no formula,” said 29-year-old Katy Manges.
The couple said they hope their adoption experience sheds light on changes that need to be made by the Haitian government.
“We have been in process for adopting him for two-and-a-half years and that’s not right,” he said.
They plan to take Malachi home to their two biological children and daughter they adopted from Africa. Back home, 7-year-old Noah has already made Malachi’s bed and put his clothes in the dresser.
Associated Press writers Jonathan M. Katz, Frank Bajak and Niko Price in Haiti and Amy Forliti in Minneapolis contributed to this report.