Haitians flee as gangs have taken much of capital


Youth take cover after hearing gunshots at a public school that serves as a shelter for people displaced by gang violence, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, March 22, 2024. [AP Photo]

With no sign yet of a transitional council or the appointment of an interim prime minister, Haitians who can are trying to flee the country.

The airport and maritime ports at Port-au-Prince closed a month ago because of gang activity. The airport in Cap-Haitien, on the northern coast, restarted flights to Miami last week.

Chaos has taken hold in Haiti as violent gangs now control much of the capital, killing thousands, and forcing millions into acute hunger.

U.N. figures indicate that more than 53,000 Haitians have abandoned the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince. Most of them are seeking refuge in rural areas of southern Haiti, which the U.N. warns cannot sustain such a large influx of displaced people.

"Every day is a matter of life or death," Pierre Joseph, a 34-year-old Save the Children worker, was quoted as saying in a statement. The charity said he had been forced to leave two homes with his wife and 6-month-old baby and was struggling to find basic supplies.

"For the first time, we are facing a crisis where nothing works, where the government is simply not functioning," he said, adding that food and power supplies have collapsed.

Neighboring countries have bolstered border security measures. The Dominican Republic, which shares a land border with Haiti, has ruled out refugee camps on its territory and deported tens of thousands.

In remarks released by the Dominican government Thursday, Dominican Foreign Minister Roberto Alvarez told the BBC that about 10,000 military personnel had been deployed to its nearly 400-kilometera border.

Criminal gangs control not only the main port in Port-au-Prince but also many of the city's access roads, making it difficult to transport medical supplies.

Access to health care, which was already severely restricted, has become even more difficult after armed men looted a hospital in the Delmas 18 neighborhood and the Saint-Martin health center last week.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, said aid organizations in Haiti continue to deliver emergency assistance to people affected by recent violence, despite security and funding challenges.

The World Food Program and its partners on Thursday delivered 21,500 hot meals to displaced people in the capital Port-au-Prince and 216,000 school meals in Cap Haitien, Gonaives, Jérémie and Miragoâne.

The WFP and its partners deliver hot meals every day, with more than 500,000 distributed across Port-au-Prince since February 29. However, funding shortfalls are jeopardizing WFP’s ability to maintain and expand its operations – a grim reality now facing other humanitarian organizations, according to OCHA.

Armed members of 'G9 and Family' march in a protest against Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sept. 19, 2023. [AP Photo]

"Our humanitarian partners also distributed more than 48,000 liters of water in three displacement sites across the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. However, displaced families in the capital continue to live in appalling conditions and struggle to receive and access assistance to meet their most basic needs," OCHA says.

Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in international pledges, few funds have been handed over to the U.N. dedicated security mission trust fund. Gangs, meanwhile, benefit from extortion, ransom payments and alleged backing from corrupt elites that have allowed them to amass large arsenals.

Haiti's Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced his resignation on March 11 as worsening violence blocked his return from abroad, pending the installation of a transitional council brokered by regional leaders to install his replacement.

For decades the country has been wracked by poverty, natural disasters, political instability and gang violence. The assassination of Haiti’s 43rd president, Jovenel Moïse, on July 7, 2021, in Port-au-Prince set off months of spiraling insecurity and violence in the country — intensifying during February's clashes — a few weeks before Henry’s resignation announcement.

Unelected and unpopular, Henry’s decision to step down as part of an internationally brokered plan has not calmed the violence.

His replacement due to be named by the so-called transitional council remains in limbo. The council has yet to be officially formed and installed amid disagreement among the political parties and other stakeholders because of doubts over the very legality of such a council.