Hundreds of Congolese orphans whose adoptions by Americans were summarily halted in 2013 could finally be headed to their new homes, according to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s new ambassador to the U.S.
H.E. François Balumuene recently met with four of the American families who have adopted children from his nation and have been waiting for two years for exit permits for the kids. On his second day as ambassador, Balumuene told the families that the central African nation will be voting by year’s end on a new draft law that would effectively lift a moratorium on international adoptions. Balumuene confirmed the news in a statement to FoxNews.com.
“I was pleased to share news with these adoptive families that the DRC’s National assembly is currently reviewing and will soon vote on a draft law that creates a new system for adoption processes in the country,” Balumuene said. “We hope to see this law passed in the near future and the subsequent unification of parents with their adoptive children. Addressing this issue has been a priority for our government, and I am pleased to report this progress soon after my arrival in the United States.”
“We felt like we were in limbo.”
- Julie Johnson
Hundreds of orphans in the Congo have loving homes and willing parents waiting in America, yet remain stuck in orphanages because the of the DRC’s freeze on adoptions that, in many cases, had already been approved and paid for.
“We felt like were in limbo,” Julie Johnson, who lives near Nashville, Tenn., and attended last week’s meeting, told FoxNews.com. “We have a common understanding on wanting to protect the children. We feel that all the families can provide a safe home here in the U.S.”
It was an open letter Johnson and her husband wrote to the government of the DRC that helped make the meeting happen. The couple has been trying to bring their adopted son, now 2, home since October of 2013.
“We feel like they wanted to work on a solution,” Johnson said of the meeting. “Did it take a long time? Yes, but at least we moving forward. This could have ended badly.”
An estimated 350 of the impoverished nation's orphans have been legally adopted by American families, approved by both the U.S. government and the courts in the central African nation. But the kids have been living in orphanages and foster homes since a September 2013 decree denying exit visas for adopted children.
Although the Congolese Immigration and Emigration office cited human trafficking as the basis for the decision, the moratorium has left children and parents ready to welcome them into their families in a heartbreaking holding pattern.
The Congo is not a signatory of The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption, an international agreement to establish safeguards to ensure that adoptions across borders respect the best interests of the children.
Friday marks the two-year anniversary of the DRC’s exit permit suspension. In a press briefing on Thursday, State Department officials commented on the matter.
“Several hundred U.S. families have been affected by this exit permit ban,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said. “The welfare of children is among the department’s top priorities. The DRC initially imposed the exit permit ban because of concerns with its own adoption process. We have repeatedly offered to work with DRC officials to address concerns with this process. It is time to allow these children who have legally completed adoptions under Congolese law to immediately join their families in the United States. They are living now in institutional conditions which potentially causes irreparable harm for them and their well-being.”
In April 2014, the State Department invited a Congolese delegation to come to the U.S. to see homes the children were slated to be adopted into, but the delegation pulled out at the last minute without explanation.
But last week’s meeting in Washington seems to have shown a welcome reversal from the DRC.
“He [Balumuene] explained that there were concerns about the adoption process. He asked about our vetting process,” Johnson recalled of the meeting. “He told us that they have drafted and will vote on a new law. Our understanding from the meeting was that we could have an answer by the end of the year.”
Others who attended the meeting were also hopeful, but somewhat guarded.
“We are cautiously optimistic,” said Heather Long, echoing her own comments to FoxNews.com last summer regarding the delay in bringing home her 3-year-old adopted son, Ethan. “It’s a year later and we are having the same conversation.
“The progress has not been as quick as we would like it to be,” she added.
Long says the process has been difficult for all of the families involved.
"It’s definitely taxing for everyone. You feel like your whole life is in limbo.”
Perry Chiaramonte is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @perrych