Zoe’s Ark operation in Chad
THE MINISTER – It’s a crisis unit set up last Friday to keep abreast of information on the affair in real time. It brings together the members of Bernard Kouchner, Jean-Marie Bockel and my private offices. It has three objectives: humanitarian, i.e. to ensure the children’s present and future well-being; consular protection for the nine French nationals, so they are tried in proper conditions, and consular protection for the seven Spanish nationals, who have no embassy over there. Out of solidarity, and at Spain’s request, we’re also going to monitor what happens to them at the legal level.
Q. – To what extent did France already know of the existence of this operation? And of this organization?
THE MINISTER – We had a meeting with Eric Breteau [President of Zoe’s Ark] on 31 July this year, the day after a meeting with the NGOs about Zoe’s Ark. Indeed, we had had wind of many rumours through members of parliament of a vast operation to adopt children. At the time, it was called "1,000 children from Darfur", and we wanted to get the NGOs’ opinion. We then alerted the French families involved and told them of our concerns. We did everything we could at ministerial, judicial and voluntary-sector level.
Q. – So you’ve had concerns for a while?
THE MINISTER – Yes, we’ve done the utmost to trail them and try and clarify this affair since the summer, but the leaders completely covered their tracks. Everything was vague, the location wasn’t clear: one day the organization was telling us that their operation was scheduled to leave from Chad, another day from Darfur. What was to happen to the children wasn’t clear either: the leaders first of all talked about adoption and now are simply talking about fostering. Moreover the Zoe’s Ark organization didn’t have the same name as over there: in Darfur, it was using the name "Children Rescue".
Q. – Today can one really talk about child trafficking? What role did these French nationals play?
THE MINISTER – The courts will determine that, but in any case - and I’m clear on this –: it was a clandestine, illegal and irresponsible operation. The French justice system has opened an investigation into Zoe’s Ark, whilst the Chadian legal authorities are looking into "Children Rescue" and the roles of the French nationals involved. Until these investigations have been completed, we won’t be able to give a definitive answer. In any case, on Friday I had a meeting with the French families who are waiting for the children and I’ve promised to keep them informed about what happens./.