Haiti detains 10 Americans at border

By Frank Bajak
Associated Press / January 31, 2010

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Ten Americans were detained by Haitian police yesterday as they tried to bus 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 after Haiti’s earthquake. Their plan was to scoop up 100 children and take them by bus to a rented hotel at a beach resort in the Dominican Republic, where they planned to establish an orphanage.

Whether they realized it or not, these Americans - the first known to be taken into custody since the Jan. 12 earthquake - put themselves in the middle of a firestorm in Haiti, where government leaders have suspended adoptions amid fears that parentless or lost children are more vulnerable than ever to child trafficking.

“In this chaos the government is in right now we were just trying to do the right thing,’’ the group’s leader, Laura Silsby, told reporters at the judicial police headquarters in the capital, where the Americans were being held pending a hearing tomorrow before a judge.

Silsby said they only had the best of intentions and paid no money for the children, whom she said they obtained from well-known Haitian pastor.

Meanwhile, relief officials were scrambling to confront a sanitation crisis that could spread malaria, cholera, and other deadly diseases throughout the chaotic camps packed with earthquake survivors.

Shortages of food, clean water, adequate shelter, and latrines are creating a potential spawning ground for epidemics in a country with an estimated 1 million people made homeless by the quake.

The crisis occurred amid an apparent dispute over where seriously injured victims should be taken for treatment. The US military has halted flights ferrying patients into the United States.

It’s not clear when the flights will resume. Military officials say some states are refusing to take patients, though they wouldn’t say which.

The White House says there was no “policy decision’’ to suspend the flights and that they stopped because the United States “started to run out of room.’’