Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Joint govt initiative gets orphans moving to US

Joint govt initiative gets orphans moving to US

Joint govt initiative gets orphans moving to US

A stream of adoptive parents and their Cambodian infants flowed through the US

Embassy in Phnom Penh, April 10 and 11 where they obtained visas to take the

Cambodian children to the US.

Ambassador Kent Wiedemann said that 45

adoptions were approved under a joint Cambodian and US government

initiative.

"The Cambodian government approved their orphan status and we

participated by ensuring the children weren't trafficked," he said.

The

parents are part of a "humanitarian initiative" of the US Immigration and

Naturalization Service (INS) to process a limited number of international

adoptions from Cambodia to the US.

On December 21, 2001 the INS ceased

issuing visas to the US amid widespread allegations of fraud and baby selling in

Cambodia's adoption process.

Hundreds of families who were in the process

of adopting Cambodian children were left stranded by the move and lobbied the US

Congress and the INS. The result was a lifting of the adoption ban for those

people in the final stages of adopting when the suspension was announced.

"Our aim is to work through those cases [at a rate] determined by the

INS," Wiedemann said, adding that another group would probably be processed in

the next few weeks.

INS investigators have been visiting orphanages to

examine individual cases for adoption. Investigations did not find hard evidence

of trafficking, but the US ambassador said that was no guarantee that all the

children were bona fide orphans.

"US law requires that the child is an

orphan. One way to establish that is to try to trace the parent. If we can't

find them that doesn't mean the child hasn't been trafficked; that just means we

can't find them," Wiedemann said.

Last year a dozen cases were held up

for several months because INS investigators determined that the documents were

fraudulent.

"In the cases we approved this week we concluded that the

documents were valid after considerable investigation," Wiedemann said. "But

documents here are all too often not reliable; they're issued locally on an

adhoc and unregulated basis and the processing is often carried out by the

orphanages."

The US Embassy has been lobbying the Cambodian government to

revamp the system of international adoption. Until that is done the suspension

on issuing new visas to any except those already in the final stages of

adopting, such as this group of 45, is expected to remain in place.

A

number of US couples and their adopted children have been holed up for weeks in

several upmarket hotels in Phnom Penh awaiting visa appointments.

"[In

the course of investigations] we've come across cases of trafficking. It is

clear that it is still endemic. The sad thing is that you have a lot of real

orphans here but you also have a lot of unscrupulous, indeed criminal, people

who acquire children by illicit means, and everyone, including the parents, is

taken advantage of," Wiedemann said.

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