BEB Seeks To Get Congolese Orphans “unSTUCK”
183 Members of Congress Urge Action
Senators Cornyn and Klobuchar Lead Bipartisan Group Asking DRC to Prioritize Children
BEB Statement on Adoptions From DRC
BEB Calls For Immediate Action to Help
Congolese Children Impacted by the Suspension
THE KIDS NOW STUCK IN DRC
Over 350 orphans who have already been legally adopted by American families from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are still stuck in orphanages and temporary foster care waiting for their American families to bring them home. Both the Congolese courts and the US Embassy have approved the adoptions. The families have passports and visas all set; yet their children continue to lose the precious development opportunities that only a family can provide. In addition, there are at least 400 families that have been matched with children that are in the process of completing their adoptions. As the processing of their adoptions is completed, their children will be added to the list of children who cannot come home, despite having been legally adopted by their adoptive parents in the DRC and having received clearance for a US Orphan Visa from the US Government.
Why are they waiting?
Citing concerns about the health and well being of previously adopted children, the immigration and emigration office (DGM) of the Congolese government announced that they would no longer issue “exit permits” for adoptions approved on or after September 25, 2013. These permits are necessary for adopted children to leave DRC. The suspension was initially expected to last at least a year. Now however, it seems the suspension will continue until DGM’s Parliament passes new laws regarding adoption. These laws will not even be considered until Parliament reconvenes in the fall. DGM promised to continue processing exit permits for adoption cases approved prior to September 25.
Both Ends Burning supports the DRC in its investigation and believes every nation is obligated to ensure that international adoptions are conducted with integrity, transparency and the highest ethics. However, we do not support the closure of international adoptions while such an investigation is underway.
A number of US families whose cases had been approved prior to September 25 relied on DGM’s commitment to process their applications for Exit Permits. These families traveled to Kinshasa, united and bonded with their adopted children, and prepared to bring them home to the United States. However, the DGM reneged on its promise and refused to process their applications for Exit Permits.
Imagine the anguish of these families as they have had to choose between staying with their adopted child in Kinshasa and risk losing their jobs in the United States or returning to the United States and leave their legally adopted child to be cared for by temporary caretakers. These separations have been heart-wrenching and harmful to both the children and their adoptive families. Heartbreakingly, 11 waiting children have died in the DRC since the suspension took effect.
On May 26, DRC released 15 children to their adoptive families, with no apparent rationale for the cases that were chosen. Since then, 6 children that were in extremely poor health have also been released, after efforts by Ambassador Swan on their behalf. The remainder of the families to whom DGM originally promised exit permits, will not be considered until after September 25, 2014.
Making matters worse, prior to BEB’s involvement, the Department of State had done next to nothing to advocate that exit letters be issued as originally promised. These stuck children were not a foreign policy priority with the DRC.
Further, the State Department had not even gathered the basic facts, such as determining how many families were eligible for exit letters, until BEB began to create its own list. This was a simple task for our government to perform, and it had been done when children were stuck in similar situations in the past, but the State Department only prepared such a list once BEB was able to bring attention to this matter.
What BEB Has Done
Both Ends Burning has stepped forward to do what the Department of State has failed to do – we have reached out to families and adoption service providers to identify the families in process. We also began a petition calling on Congress to intervene in this tragedy and we began a specific advocacy campaign to right this wrong. Public response was tremendous. In the first 24 hours, our simple petition produced over 50,000 letters that were sent to the President and Members of Congress to draw attention to this human rights crisis. In total more than 116,000 letters were sent.
We have called for three actions to help these children and their adoptive families while DRC’s government conducts its review.
- Expedited approval and issuance of exit letters by DGM for any child whose health is at risk.
- DGM’s honoring of its original commitment to process exit permit applications for the families that were approved prior to September 25, 2013.
- A means for families to obtain exit permits for their children who received approval to adopt a Congolese child on or after that date.
Our advocacy efforts have resulted in the following actions on Capitol Hill:
- A letter from 171 Members of Congress to President Kabila of the DRC asking for his intervention.
- A candlelight vigil held on the lawn of the US Capitol by waiting families in honor of their children and the children who have died while waiting.
- Over 100 meetings between waiting families and their Members of Congress in Washington DC.
- Resolutions passed by both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate calling on the DRC to end this crisis.
- A letter from 167 Members of Congress asking President Obama to reach out to DRC President Kabila to solve this crisis.
- Testimony from BEB to the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa.
- In addition, Both Ends Burning has asked Members of Congress to take the following actions:
- Send a Congressional delegation to DRC to meet with the government, understand their concerns – especially any that have not been openly stated, and explain the urgency of the families who have begun the adoption process in good faith under DRC’s existing laws.
- Demand the Department of State remain engaged at the highest levels with DRC’s government to resolve this crisis.
- Require US Department of State and US Citizenship and Immigration Services to allocate more resources to handle adoption case processing in both DRC and the National Benefits Center so that children can be united expeditiously with their families once adoptions reopen.
- Maintain the visibility of this issue both with the press and the Department of State until the situation is resolved.
BEB has also met with a high ranking member of the Congolese government to discuss our mutual concern over the crisis. We discussed the needless deaths of Benjamin Dillow and ten other children that we know of. This official was very disturbed by Ben’s needless death, the love of his adoptive family for him, and the anguish and despair they are suffering. He told us that adoption is not well understood in his country and agreed with us that immediate action is required to end the suspension so no more children will perish. While he does not have the power to resolve this crisis alone, he agreed to advocate for a logical path for all the stuck children, prioritizing those who are medically fragile. He committed to work with us, in honor of Ben, for all the children who are waiting. Our meeting gave us hope. For the first time we have an ally with influence in DRC government who shares a common vision for a resolution to this crisis.