The president of Chad had a warning Friday for nine French citizens associated with a charity who had been arrested for trying to fly 103 children from Darfur to France, saying they faced punishment for their “horrible act.”
The Chadian police arrested the French citizens on Thursday, but a leader of the charity said that relocating the children was a humanitarian effort undertaken to “save them from death.”
The Chadian president, Idriss Déby, told reporters: “It is a horrible act which I say is a crime. I strongly condemn it.” He spoke during a visit to a social center in Abéché, Chad, where the children are being cared for, Reuters reported. Seven Spaniards, crew members of the plane chartered by the organization, were also detained by the Chadian government.
The charity, l’Arche de Zoé, or Zoé’s Ark, a three-year-old French nonprofit organization that aims to help orphans, said it had taken the children from Sudan to neighboring Chad and was planning to fly them to France, where it had lined up host families that had paid nearly $3,500 per child.
The group said the children, age 1 to 9, were orphans from the western Darfur region in Sudan. Rama Yade, France’s junior minister for human rights, condemned the operation as “illegal and irresponsible.” The French Foreign Ministry said a Paris court had opened a criminal investigation into the matter, Reuters reported. Adoption is illegal in Sudan and Chad.