News / Americas

10 Americans Missionaries in Haiti Charged with Kidnapping and Criminal Association

Laura Silsby, head of New Life Children's Refuge charity
Laura Silsby, head of New Life Children's Refuge charity
Elizabeth Lee

Haitian authorities have charged 10 American missionaries with child kidnapping and criminal association for allegedly trying to take 33 Haitian children out of the country illegally. Haiti's government has suggested the case could be transferred to the United States but, for the moment, the ten have been returned to a jail in the capital Port-au-Prince where they have been held since their arrest last Friday.  

These American missionaries never expected to find themselves in a Haitian jail.
They are members of a Christian charity called New Life Children's Refuge.  They say they are in Haiti to help orphans.

Laura Silsby heads the charity.

"We came here with the intention of being able to offer and share God's love and share hope with these children," said Laura Silsby.

Some of the group members belong to Central Valley Baptist Church in Idaho.  

The church's website says the missionaries were rescuing children from orphanages in Haiti and taking them to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic.

The missionaries were arrested as they tried to cross the border in a bus with 33 children.

Silsby denies her group did anything illegal.

"Our understanding was that, we were told by a number of people, including Dominican authorities, that we would be able to bring the children across," she said.

But Haitian officials say the Americans did not get the required permission from Haitian authorities.

Silsby says it was a misunderstanding and her group had only good intentions to help the children who range from two months to 12 years old.

"We came here to Haiti to help the children that have no one, children who have no mother or father, no hope of having someone to care for them," said Silsby.

But many of the children do have living parents according to SOS Children's Village, the aid group now caring for the children. SOS spokesman George Willeit.

"An elder girl, maybe eight or nine-years-old told us crying, 'I am not an orphan," said George Willeit. "I do have my parents. I thought I was going to boarding school or to a summer camp."

Some of the parents say they chose to give their children to the missionaries.

"They didn't kidnap my kid," said one of the mothers. "I gave them my daughter because she was going to have a better life."

Haiti's prime minister sees it differently.  

"For me, it's not Americans who've been arrested," said Jean-Max Bellerive. "It's kidnappers who have been arrested."

The case has ignited fears of children being victimized by child traffickers in a country with a weakened government.

Haiti has now suspended adoptions to try and protect its children who remain helpless in the wake of the earthquake.

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