Ten Americans were detained by Haitian police on Saturday as they tried to take 33 children across the border into the Dominican Republic, allegedly without proper documents. The Baptist church members from Idaho called it a “Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission,” meant to save abandoned children from the chaos following Haiti’s earthquake.
The Americans were being held in the capital after police at the border challenged the paperwork. Their detention was confirmed by Haitian Communications Minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue. U.S. consular officials were meeting with the Americans at the jail.
“There are allegations of child trafficking and that really couldn’t be farther from the truth,” said Sean Lankford of Meridian, Idaho, whose wife and 18-year-old daughter were among those detained.
The children “were going to get the medical attention they needed. They were going to get the clothes and the food and the love they need to be healthy and to start recovering from the tragedy that just happened,” Lankford told The Associated Press.
The group had intended to take the children to a rented hotel at a beach resort in the Dominican Republic, where they planned to establish an orphanage. They thought they had the proper paperwork, said Lankford.
“The plan was never to go adopt all these kids. The plan was to create this orphanage where kids could live. And kids get adopted out of orphanages. People go down and they’re going to fall in love with these kids, and many of these kids will end up getting adopted.”
Haiti has imposed new controls on adoptions since the Jan. 12 earthquake. The government now requires Prime Minister Max Bellerive to personally authorize the departure of any child as a way to prevent child trafficking.
Officials estimate that thousands of kids have been separated from their parents or orphaned by the earthquake.
Five of the 10 being held are from the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, and the others are from the East Side Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho.
Idaho friends and relatives have been in touch with those detained via text message and phone calls, he said.
“Of course I’m concerned for my wife and my daughter,” he said. “They were hoping to make a difference and be able to help those kids.”
The group described their plans on a Web site where they also asked for tax-deductible contributions, saying they would “gather” 100 orphans and bus them to the Dominican resort of Cabarete, before building a more permanent orphanage in the Dominican town of Magante.
“Given the urgent needs from this earthquake, God has laid upon our hearts the need to go now versus waiting until the permanent facility is built,” it says on their Web site.