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.
“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
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.
“The greed is not proved. These people didn’t have a criminal record before, but one of the things they felt themselves as gods they are going to help … so it’s really more megalomania. So how do you sentence megalomania? … No children have been harmed, nobody has been deprived from his parents. The crime, maybe there was an intention, but the crime was not actually committed.
“Some kind of regulation should be taken so that there is a kind of minimum check of who wants to raise generosity money in the public.”
– Renaud Girard, the chief foreign correspondent for Le Figaro