aid workers arrested in Chad

Submitted by jcravens42 on October 30, 2007 - 3:49pm.

As you may know, a group of aid workers, most of them French and many of them volunteers, have been charged with kidnapping, per their attempt to fly from Chad with 103 children a charity said were orphans from Sudan's Darfur region. Journalists covering the action were also arrested.

L'Arche de Zoe, or Zoe's Ark, said it had arranged French host families for the children to save them from possible death in Sudan's western Darfur region.

If they are found guilty, the aid workers will face many years in prison and hard labor in Chad.

At minimum, the group leadership did not go through the proper channels in order for this airlift and these "hostings" to take place, and did a very poor job regarding communicating with everyone inside the government. But the infractions could go well beyond that: French diplomats said they had warned Zoe's Ark for months not to go through with its plans. French authorities have condemned the charity's plans and, in France, police searched the charity's offices as well as the apartment of its founder as part of an inquiry into whether the group broke adoption laws. UNICEF's representative in Chad, Mariam Coulibaly Ndiaye, said authorities were interviewing the children Monday to learn more about their origins and whether they were really orphans.

And then there is the very nasty turn that the allegations have taken: Chad officials are suggesting the children were going to be sold as sex slaves or human transplant donors.

I'm very concerned at these more serious rumors spiralling out of control. As many of you know, I try to track stories about how rumor and myth interfere with aid efforts, and the situation in Chad is turning into a classic example. Indeed, this French organization is guilty of a lot, and even the most minimum charges will harm the image of foreign aid workers. But these other much more serious rumors -- which are being made without substantiation -- will do a lot more than dent reputations. All aid workers in the field that work with children need to be following this story closely.

Submitted by kiddy on October 30, 2007 - 5:58pm.

Let me start by saying my comments are from a Security Point of view and reading between the lines. I watched the story on a french news channel the first day the story broke out. The next time was when the President of Chad went to meet the children and spoke to one aid worker over the kidnapping of the children. One of the children in the group spoke about how the aid workers went to their village and spoke with his parents who eventually gave the aid workers permission to take the same boy. This case reminds me of one case, the long drawn out legal battle between Libya and the nurses and a doctor who were accused of infecting children with AIDS.
From what i have seen on the french news channel, a number of points dont add up. i 'see' the hand of the french Government in this whole issue. Did the French Government inform the Chadians that some aid workers were about to steal children from their country? The French Government issued a statement that it knew about this whole matter as way back as July 2007. Why then did it not issue a statement to warn the would be foster families that this whole thing was illegal? I saw a French Government spokeswoman claiming that the Government could not intervene until such a time that the crime had been committed. Am not French nor do i understan the French Laws but am sure they would have found a way of stopping this operation coming ahead. Let us assume that someone was going to commit a crime, would the Government have said we will only arrest the culprit after he commits the offence? i also 'see' the Chadian Government demanding compansation for the transgressions committed by the French Nationals, maybe some pieces of military hardware in exchange for the aid wokers. I also heard that even the plane crew were under arrest. What offence did they commit? I have now read from the above blog that even the reporters were also arrested. It will be an interesting story to follow.


Submitted by Graham Wood2 on October 30, 2007 - 6:39pm.

An interesting comparison with the above and this from 1975:

Graham Wood

Submitted by jcravens42 on October 31, 2007 - 11:35am.

Thanks, Graham. Scary story -- just how often does this happen?

Off to fix a pot of coffee. I'll think of you.

Submitted by Tom Longley on November 2, 2007 - 12:42am.

Nicely connected together Graham. I guess that notions of distance and appropriateness have changed. Also witness last year's brough-hah over Madonnna's child adoption.

Submitted by Graham Wood2 on October 31, 2007 - 6:36pm.

I hope you enjoyed the coffee Jayne.

In 1975 Ockenden was widely praised for this and received a large sum in donations. Attitudes, thankfully, have changed and this kind of activity is no longer acceptable.

Graham Wood

Submitted by jcravens42 on November 1, 2007 - 2:25pm.

Based on this latest development in Chad, I've updated this resource on "Folklore, Rumors (or Rumours) and Urban Myths Interfering with Development and Aid/Relief Efforts"

Submitted by jcravens42 on November 3, 2007 - 5:14pm.

UNHCR said on Thursday that most of the 103 African children which a French group had planned to fly out of Chad were NOT orphans as the group Zoe's Ark had claimed.

The two words I'm hearing most about the volunteers of Zoe's Ark are "arrogant" and "naive." And, sadly, their actions are resulting in hostilities towardid workers in the area, according to news reports. If anyone is experiencing any fallout from this and would feel comfortable posting about it to AWN, I'm sure others would be interested in hearing about your experience.

More about Zoe's Ark, from

* The group was created by a group of French motoring enthusiasts in the wake of the tsunami that devastated parts of Asia on December 26, 2004. They set up four temporary camps in Banda Aceh in Indonesia.

* The organisation has a president, Eric Breteau, and a general secretary and around 50 active volunteers.

* In April, Zoe's Ark announced a campaign to evacuate 10,000 orphans from Sudan's Darfur region alongside other French charities including Sauver le Darfour (Save Darfur). It said it wanted to place orphaned Darfuri children aged under five in foster care with French families, invoking its right to do so under international law.

* The general secretary, Stephanie Lefebvre, told the Le Parisien daily late last month the organisation never aimed to have the children in its care adopted, and simply wanted to save them from starvation.

* Lefebvre said the group sought authorisation from French authorities to grant safe passage to the children it intended to bring back to France, so Zoe's Ark could seek the right of asylum for them.

* France's Foreign Ministry had issued a warning about Zoe's Ark in August, saying there was no guarantee the children were helpless orphans and casting doubt on the project's legality.

Official web site:

Submitted by jcravens42 on November 5, 2007 - 9:10am.

Seven Europeans among 17 detained have been freed from Chad and returned to Europe. The released include the three French journalists who were doing a story on the airlift (that's going to be really interesting to see eventually), and four Spanish members of the flight crew.

The six French charity members, three Spanish crew members and the Belgian pilot remain in custody.

Submitted by jcravens42 on November 5, 2007 - 9:14pm.

PARIS (Reuters) - A French journalist arrested with members of the Zoe's Ark group in Chad as they tried to fly 103 African children to Europe said on Monday they had displayed "dramatic amateurishness" and lied about their plans.

Marc Garmirian, one of three French reporters released on Sunday, interviewed members of the group during the operation and filmed them putting bandages on children to make them seem injured before their planned flight to France.;_ylt=AhACzsC6ipAjtD_fNmA6_t4E1vAI

Submitted by jcravens42 on December 27, 2007 - 12:47pm.

27 December 2007: Six French aid workers were sentenced to eight years of hard labour after a court in Chad's capital found them guilty of trying to kidnap 103 children and fly them out of the country. The six aid workers belong to the French organisation L'Arche de Zoe (Zoe's Ark), which confusingly went under the name Children Rescue in Chad.

Zoe's Ark maintains that the children were to be flown to France for fostering, with the knowledge of the French government. But the investigation proved that the majority of the children, aged one to 10, were not orphans and had come from the Chadian side of the border. Prosecutors said the group, led by M. Breteau and Emilie Lelouch, duped parents in eastern Chad into handing over their children with promises of schooling.

The Chadian government said that the six, who were on trial with three Chadians and one Sudanese, had not been authorised to leave the north African country with the children. It also emerged that a junior French minister had raised doubts about the operation's legality last August. The UN children's organisation Unicef said last month that the planned airlift had breached international law.

The case caused long-simmering resentment against French colonialism to bubble up among the Chadian public and triggered local protests against child trafficking by the French. It also prompted accusations that the Chadian justice system had been speeded up under political pressure from Paris, which is a strong supporter of Chadian President Idriss Déby.

The sentence opens the way for a diplomatic deal to secure the return of the six to France. Immediately after the announcement of the harsh penalty, France called for the six to be transferred home, where they are expected to serve out at least a part of their sentence.

The Chadian prosecutor had demanded sentences of between 7 and 11 years. Lawyer Philippe Houssine said the sentences requested were justified because M. Breteau and Mme Lelouch had shown no remorse. "On the contrary, he (Breteau) displays an arrogant, insolent attitude, which means this is a person who is ready to do it again if asked," he said.

There were fears that the crisis could affect delicate negotiations on a French-led European peacekeeping force to be deployed in eastern Chad to help prevent the Darfur conflict spilling across the border.


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