PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haitian police detained 10 Americans on Saturday on suspicion of trying to take children out of the country without proper papers amid the chaos following the Jan. 12 earthquake.
The Americans were taken into custody with about 33 children while trying to reach the Dominican Republic, said Communications Minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue.
“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 daughter were among those detained.
“They 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.
State Department officials confirmed that U.S. citizens were arrested while applying to enter the Dominican Republic with a group of children. They said consular officials were seeking access to the detained Americans and were providing all possible assistance. The official spoke anonymously because discussion of the case was not authorized.
The group had intended to take the children to an orphanage they had set up at a hotel in the Dominican Republic, and thought they had the proper paperwork, said Lankford.
Idaho friends and relatives have been in touch with those detained via text message and phone calls, he said.
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.
“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.”