KIEV, Ukraine – A French family has been detained for trying to hide their two surrogate infants under a mattress in their van and smuggle them across the border from Ukraine into Hungary.
The 2-month-old twin girls were born to a surrogate mother in Ukraine. The French couple says they acted out of despair after the French government refused to issue the children French passports because it does not recognize surrogacy.
"We are not child traffickers, we are their parents," the French mother told The Associated Press, speaking on condition her name not be used because she was afraid that publicity would hurt her children. "We tried to cross the border out of despair and love for our little girls without knowing what would happen."
Border guards discovered the infants hidden in a chest under a mattress when they inspected the vehicle Monday, alarmed by the suspicious behavior of a 38-year-old French man and his father, according to Ukraine Border Guard spokesman Eduard Steblyuk
Authorities have opened a criminal investigation into illegal transportation of minors abroad. The two men, whose names have not been released, could face from three to seven years in prison if convicted, Steblyuk said.
The babies, identified by Ukrainian authorities as Vikcy and Kim, have been taken to a nearby hospital. The French couple was allowed to see them Wednesday and briefly hold the girls in their arms while they slept.
"They are doing very well, it's a very good hospital," the mother said. "We hope to get them back."
The French Embassy in Kiev declined to comment.
A French diplomat said the embassy is aware of the situation and was offering assistance to the couple, who are effectively under house arrest in the western Ukrainian city of Uzhorod. France is awaiting the next judicial step.
But the couple said French authorities were stonewalling the case, sending their petition from one government agency to another.
"I want to write a letter to all the countries in the world and ask them to give my girls any passports just so that I can take them with me," the French woman said in tears.
Steblyuk said border guards decided to search the van because the French men appeared very nervous and loud music was playing in the vehicle. Photographs taken by border guards showed the healthy-looking infants sleeping peacefully in a wooden chest under the bed in the white Mercedes van, bundled tightly in pink and yellow snowsuits and wearing pink caps.
"They are clean, their nails are trimmed," said Mahdalyna Vizaver, deputy chief doctor at the Berehivska district hospital that has been taking care of the babies since the detention. "They have been well cared for."
Parents adopting children born to surrogate mothers abroad face legal hurdles in some European countries that do not recognize such arrangements. A gay Belgian couple waited more than two years to reunite with their son, born to a surrogate mother in Ukraine, after Belgium initially refused to issue him a passport and the couple unsuccessfully tried to smuggle the boy into Europe, also by car.
Angela Charlton contributed to this report from Paris.