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WikiLeaks brings to light suspected baby trafficking from Egypt to Canada

Globe and Mail, Published Friday, Feb. 18, 2011

The RCMP and Canadian consular officials in Cairo have been investigating up to a dozen cases where couples are suspected of having trafficked babies from Egypt into Canada, according to leaked diplomatic cables.

The details are outlined in American embassy dispatches made public this week by WikiLeaks.

Some of the suspected cases involve priests of the Coptic Christian community in Egypt, who are trying to find homes for street children but run into Egypt’s Islamic law, which bans adoption, according to a spokesman in Canada.

The crackdown began after American and Egyptian investigators dismantled a ring that used false birth-registration papers to bring babies to the United States, arresting 10 people, including two U.S. citizens, said a February, 2009 cable from the U.S. Cairo embassy.

Other embassies were briefed and “afterwards, the Canadian Embassy undertook a comprehensive review of almost 300 cases, identifying about a dozen that were suspect and subsequently referring those to SSIS [Egyptian State Security Investigative Services],” the cable said.

In July, 2009, the fraud prevention unit of the U.S. embassy met with a “visiting team from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) who arrived in Cairo specifically to begin an investigation of the baby smuggling network with regards to Canada,” said another cable from September, 2009.

“Further close cooperation with the RCMP will be important in identifying cases that may have used Canada as a means to enter the United States.”

It is unclear where the investigation into these cases stand. So far the RCMP investigation has not led to any charges, said spokeswoman Sergeant Michèle Paradis, declining to comment further.

Adoption by foreigners is almost impossible in Egypt. Islamic law forbids adoption, leaving Christian minorities like the Copts in a legal bind. In cases that have become public, Coptic priests were allegedly trying to place orphans with Egyptian-American families.

“This is not smuggling. It’s the clash between Christian values and Islamic sharia law … This is how for 1,400 years the Christians who are oppressed by Islamic law survived,” said Sherif Mansour, a spokesman for the Canadian Coptic Association.

“There’s 1.2 million kids in the streets of Cairo right now … Which way do you want it? People adopting those children or letting them live under the bridges?”

In several cases outlined in the cables, Coptic priests allegedly acted as middlemen. “The FPU [Fraud Prevention Unit] has confirmed the active role of Coptic priests and nuns in smuggling infants and children to the United States,” said the September, 2009 cable.

A priest was, for example, involved in a case where an American couple admitted to getting a newborn from a Coptic hospital in Alexandria after paying a U.S. $70 fee, said a January, 2010 cable.

Subpoenaed by a local prosecutor, the priest tried to get a visa to the U.S. but withdrew his application before he was interviewed and fingerprinted.

“He appeared at the Canadian Embassy the following day to apply for a visa. The visa was issued, but subsequently cancelled” when the embassy learned that Egyptian authorities wanted him.

The cables do not offer more details about what happened to the suspect.

But the cables describe a tight co-operation between Western authorities and Egypt’s SSIS, which has been accused of torture and other human-rights abuses.

The cables refer to the cases of two Egyptian-American couples who were sentenced in 2009 to two years in jail for trying to illegally adopt from a Coptic orphanage.

One of the two couples, Iris Botros and Louis Andros of Durham, N.C., said they donated $4,500 in return for twins and false papers claiming Ms. Botros had given birth to the two babies.

A Coptic priest told American diplomats the practice has been going on since 1976.

“He stated that the majority of the priests involved in illegal adoptions are very charismatic, have numerous followers and are consumed with their position of power as leaders of the Coptic community,” the priest said, according to a February, 2010 cable.

“According to this priest, the `big’ personalities of these individuals have prompted them to engage in activities not condoned by many others in the Coptic Church. He mentioned that the Church is more than capable of raising and educating unwanted Coptic children. He added that in Alexandria, literally hundreds of babies are given to childless families and only a few have been taken out of Egypt.”

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