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Controversy Surrounds French NGO’s Adoption of Darfur Children

Translated Thursday 1 November 2007, by Emma Hearle

Darfur-France. A French NGO’s attempt to relocate 103 children from Darfur has suddenly stopped. Thoughtless, irresponsible, manipulative?

The French families who gathered together at the airport in Vatry (Marne) on Thursday to wait for the plane chartered from Chad by the aid group Zoe’s Ark, with 103 children from Darfur on board, are not giving up. They are actively involved in an emergency humanitarian operation: to save the orphaned child victims of a civil war. “My aim was to save a life, not adopt a child. I knew that adoption was not permitted there,” reveals Sabrina, who travelled from Lyon, after spending a night in the airport terminal.

The arrest in Chad of nine French people accused of trying to kidnap these hundred or so children stunned the people present, as did the accusations of thoughtlessness, illegality and irresponsibility that have since rained down upon the NGO. To explain the fiasco, volunteer Christophe Letien suggests an unexplained “change of mind by the authorities in Chad,” who were fully informed about the aid operation. Christine, in charge of the Darfur orphans’ charity COFOD (Collectif des Familles pour les Orphelins du Darfour), and whose husband is in prison, elaborates, “some NGOs acted against us.” Céline Lorenzon, the association’s lawyer, is questioning the attitude of the French authorities, which in a few hours changed from supportive, (impossible to land a plane at Abeche without the support of the French army – editor’s note) to unbelievably severe.

Nevertheless, against the background of the affair, Rama Yade, the French secretary of state for of foreign affairs and human rights, claims to have called for “the utmost vigilance” regarding the NGO since the beginning of August. Yesterday, the head of UNICEF in France, Jacques Hintzy, cast doubt on claims that the children chosen by Zoe’s Ark really were orphans: “Our first interviews with these children… give the impression that there are only a few orphans among these hundred or so children.” As far as the association’s operation is concerned, he said he was “divided between ignorance and fraud, because when I go back over the Zoe’s Ark documents from 7 May, they clearly mention adoption.”

Likewise, the French NGO EMDH (Children of the World - Human Rights), which has been working in Darfur for years, yesterday denounced the “latest mercenaries of humanitarian aid” and outright condemned the project attempting to “evacuate 10,000 children from Darfur and put them in the care of host families in Europe and the United States.”

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