Monday, October 29, 2007

French NGO + Darfur "refugees" = weirdness

You can’t say this isn’t a strange tale.

A French NGO, L’Arche de Zoé, attempted to transport 103 children to France on Thursday, October 25, where at least fifty French families were waiting an airport 150 km east of Paris to welcome them. The NGO staff said the children, between the ages of one and nine, were refugees from the Darfur crisis and were in need of medical attention.

In reality, however, at least some of the children appear to be Chadian and most of the children are in good health. It is unknown how many are believed to be orphans. For the mix-up, the nine members of the NGO and the seven Spanish flight staff have been detained by Chadian authorities and Chad President Idriss Deby has promised to charge them with “kidnapping” and/or “child trafficking.”

UNICEF condemned the operation, billing it as “illegal and irresponsible.” The French government has also strongly criticized it. French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Chad President Idriss Deby about the matter.

Instead of calming the situation, Deby visited the children at an orphanage and appealed to base fears: "Their aim is to kidnap the children from their parents, to steal the children from their parents and sell them to paedophile organisations in Europe, and even perhaps to kill them and sell their organs," the BBC reported.

His paranoia aside, Deby appeared to be appealing to his base who must wonder how this went on without the government’s knowledge. Presently, the French government is also unequivocal in its denunciation.

"I can understand the families, the French families who wanted to save children,” the BBC quoted the French Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights Rama Yade. “But I don't understand why an association decided, alone, to bring them to Paris. That's why we completely disapprove of this initiative."

IRIN, a United Nations news agency, reported that the Paris-based NGO, founded by a firefighter, had earlier announced its intention to evacuate 10,000 orphans from the Darfur crisis, where four years of armed conflict has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced 2.3 million more.

The statement, which IRIN reported was posted on the NGO’s website in April, declared: “We must act to save these children. Now! In a few months, they will be dead.”

The story goes on to say, however, that officials from L'Arche de Zoé claim they were only bringing the children to France for medical treatment. From IRIN:

“For us, it was never, and I insist never, a question of being an adoption agency,” Stéphanie Lefebvre, secretary general of L’Arche de Zoé, told Le Parisien. “These children were not destined for adoption. Our approach was simple: We just wanted to save them from death by offering them a host family.”

Lefebvre also said that 300 families had paid €2,400 ($3,450) to host the children. The BBC reports that the NGO has statements saying the children are refugees.

Questions still remain
According to a round up of the French press by Angola News, left-of-center papers in Paris were questioning the role of the French embassy in Chad.

Stressing the inconsistencies in the position of the French government, Libération revealed that several times the French Army had provided transportation for the NGO between Ndiamena and Abeche, where the Darfur children were supposed to take off for France.

"The strange looks of the NGO members, most of whom were wearing firemen`s uniforms, could have raised the suspicion of the French embassy, or soldiers who boast of knowing everything in Chad," Libération insisted, describing the official position of Paris as inconsistent.

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