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Zoe’s Ark was a French NGO dedicated to helping orphaned children affected by armed conflict or natural disaster and launched in response to the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia. By 2007 the focus shifted to Darfur.
In October 2007, Chadian authorities nabbed six Zoe’s Ark workers for attempting to evacuate 103 children to France. The workers claimed they were rescuing the Sudanese “orphans” from war-mangled Darfur and ushering them to better lives in Europe. There were just a couple snafus: Most of the kids were actually from Chad — and had parents.
Zoe’s Ark director Eric Breteau and 5 other workers were fined and sentenced to hard labor in Chad for attempted kidnapping, though those sentences were commuted to regular jail time in France and the workers were later released following a pardon by the Chadian president, Idriss Déby.
Most of the 103 children with their families over the following months, while French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the U.N., and other relief agencies that had worked in the area criticized Zoe’s Ark, especially for making locals suspicious of other, more straitlaced aid agencies.
On February 2013, the head of Zoe’s Ark, Eric Breteau, and his partner and co-worker Emilie Lelouch, were found guilty of fraud, illegally brokering adoption and of attempting to bring foreign minors into the country in 2007.
“[They] couldn’t possibly be ignorant of the illegal nature of their work,” the court heard. The defendants were also accused of lying to the children’s families.
The couple were fined a toal of €100,000 (£85,000) and barred from any activity related to the placement or accommodation of minors.
The charity itself received a €100,000 fine and four other charity workers – Philippe van Winkelberg, Christophe Letien, Alain Peligat and Marie-Agnes Peleran – were given suspended sentences ranging from six months to a year.
Two French charity workers have been sentenced to two years in prison for illegally trying to fly 103 African children from Chad to France in 2007.
Eric Breteau, who founded the French charity Zoe’s Ark, and his colleague Emilie Lelouch had been tried in absentia but appeared in the Paris court for Tuesday’s verdict, and were immediately arrested.
The children were said to have been orphans from Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region, but turned out to be mainly from Chad and with families of their own.
In a case that shocked France, the defendants were arrested in Chad as they tried to load the children on to a plane bound for France in 2007.
They were sentenced later that year to eight years’ hard labour by a court in the Chadian capital, N’Djamena, but repatriated to France after receiving a pardon from Chad’s president in March 2008.
Zoe’s Ark is not the first supposedly well-intentioned aid project to get it wrong.
Kony 2012 – a campaign to raise awareness about Uganda’s Lord Resistance Army commander Josephy Kony, caused a massive stir online last year. Tens of millions watched the video but it did not take long to draw criticism, including from many Ugandans. It was accused of being innacurate and too simplistic and worst of all for its producers; self-serving.
Another example was the One Million Shirts for Africa project, a scheme that wanted to donate second-hand clothes. But a shortage of t-shirts is not a problem in Africa, especially in a continent where they are made cheaply for export.
There was also the shoe brand TOMS, who have donated more than a million pairs of shoes to developing countries. Critics say they send shoes where people may already be employed to make them, and their campaign does not combat the root cause of ‘shoelessness’, which is poverty.
So, how dangerous is this so-called do-it-yourself humanitarianism? Was the Zoe’s Ark campaign to evacuate children from Darfur a case of humanitarian goodwill gone wrong, or a more sinister cover for child trafficking?
Inside Story, with presenter Laura Kyle, discusses with guests: Acheikh Ibn Oumar, the former Chadian minister of foreign affairs; and Renaud Girard, the chief foreign correspondent for Le Figaro.
|“A lot has been said about the motives in terms of humanitarian commitment and the will to help the children to get them a better life, but basically I can say that the first and the only motive is simple greed.“
– Acheikh Ibn Oumar, the former Chadian minister of foreign affairs
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