PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Six Haitian orphans boarded an airplane to the United States on Wednesday, four days after Haitian police seized them out of fear they were being kidnapped.
The founder of the orphanage said their new families would be able to take them home on Thursday.
"They're getting on the plane," Maria O'Donovan, field director of the orphanage in northern Haiti, told The Associated Press by telephone over the din of children's voices.
On Saturday, a group of 20 men blocked four women accompanying the orphans to the airport, shouting: "You can't take our children!" The women were briefly detained and the orphans — ages 1-5 — spent three night sleeping on the ground in a tent city, according to the Children of The Promise orphanage in northern Cap-Haitien.
The U.S. Embassy official carrying the documents needed to usher them through immigration had been running late.
At the very moment when Haiti's impoverished children are in greatest need — and well-meaning foreigners are most willing to help — fears of child trafficking are making it harder than ever for them to leave the Western Hemisphere's poorest land.
Those concerns have been fueled by the arrest last month of 10 U.S. missionaries trying to take a busload of 33 children to the Dominican Republic without proper documentation. It turned out none of the children were orphans, and the Americans were arrested; two remain in jail in Port-au-Prince.
The outcome of the case involving the six orphans was different. Sara Vanzee and her husband, Tim, waited for their 13-month-old son Albert to arrive. They understand the suspicions in Haiti given recent cases, but said their ordeal has been stressful.
"Our hope is that they're OK with it, that they can see that we absolutely love these children and that we want to provide for them," said Vanzee, who is from the U.S. Midwest.
Thousands of desperate Haitian parents, unable to care for their own children, have eagerly given the youngsters away in hopes of giving them a better life. At the same time, they are terrified they will be tricked by predators who will enslave or sexually abuse the children.
Haiti's government immediately halted new adoptions in the chaos that followed the Jan. 12 quake, allowing only those already approved to move forward.
That chill hardened into a freeze after Saturday's incident. A U.S. State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the matter's sensitivity, said the latest drama held up the departure of 50 orphans approved for U.S. adoption.
It took the U.S. ambassador and Haiti's prime minister to iron out on Tuesday what turned out to be an ugly misunderstanding, and the children were handed over to the Embassy.