Adoptions still on - embassy

Date: 2001-11-23
Source: PPP

Written by Bill Bainbridge and Lon Nara

THE US Embassy remains "open for business", despite the recent rejection of visas for 13 children adopted by couples from the US, said Ambassador Kent Wiedemann. Eight had been adopted from the Asian Orphans' Association (AOA), the orphanage at the center of two trafficking investigations.

Director of Social Affairs for Kandal province, Touch Phom, said another four children were from the state-run Cambodian Hungarian Friendship Orphanage, and one from a third institution.

Wiedemann said the current case would not affect any of the roughly 600 adoptions approved so far this year, adding that the embassy was currently making appointments with other prospective parents. He warned the embassy would be much more careful about issuing visas in future.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith rejected the idea of the government imposing a moratorium as a result of the fraud allegations.

"Up to this time we have no specific information about these cases. There [would have to be a full] investigation before we [would] instigate a moratorium on adoptions," he said. "We cannot do it just based on an allegation."

The fate of the children who were denied visas, however, remains in an uncertain legal limbo, with the Cambodian government recognizing the adoption and the US Government alleging fraud.

"They are Cambodian children, and that's about all I can say about their status. [Their adoption status] is the responsibility of the Cambodian government but that's separate from whether a child is a legitimate orphan and eligible for a visa to travel to the United States," Wiedemann said.

Child welfare department director at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Mao Sovadei, said he did not know whether any of the babies were registered with his department but, if not, he "would not recognize them".

"I do not know anything [about the allegations of fraud]. It is the affair of the US Embassy [to suspend visas]," Sovadei said.

"The adoptive parents said they will not return those babies to my center. They asked someone they trust to look after them," said Puth Serey, president of the Asian Orphan's Association from which eight of the children were adopted.

One of those parents, Don Korta, in an email to the Post November 17, wrote: "We plan on appealing it at this time. We cannot do that though until we receive our 'official' letter from INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service]. The US Embassy provided us with no other options."

The parents have 30 days from receipt of the INS letter to appeal the decision. Korta indicated that he doubted the strength of the INS evidence.

"The ambassador [in a phone call to Korta's wife Linda] referred to our children as being 'taken from their mothers and trafficked'. When she asked him if the children would be given back to their mothers if we did not appeal, he stated he doubted anyone would ever know who the mothers are," Korta wrote. "How can they know they were taken from their mothers, if they don't even know who the mothers are?"

Wiedemann said it was unfortunate that parents felt embittered about US authorities' handling of the case.

"Clearly they are being victimized by those perpetrating the fraud and not by those in the INS which is protecting them from being party to fraud," he said.

Wiedemann said the decision to reject visa applications was not a blanket ruling against adoptions in Cambodia or against any particular adoption facilitators, saying that each case had been examined individually.

"We've done full field investigations talking to individuals who are involved in the whole document chain of each case. [The purpose of the investigation was] to determine under US law if the children are eligible to be adopted, that it's clear that they are orphans and they have adequate documents as such. The investigations showed that they have not and they likely are not legitimate orphans," the ambassador said.

However, AOA president Serey rejects allegations of fraud.

"The US Embassy said the adoption papers are a forgery. I understand that is not true because the papers were screened appropriately by the government. If it is true, I am the first [who will] land in jail," he said.

While the US would not suspend adoptions altogether, Wiedemann said that he was having ongoing discussions with MOSALVY and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"I'm discussing ways in which to eradicate fraud and trafficking in children for the purposes of adoption ... in order to facilitate our services to American citizens and to protect them and Cambodian children and their birth parents," he said.

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