Aid workers halt operations as gang warfare in Haiti force thousands to flee Port-au-Prince police helpless
Haitian aid groups backed by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are temporarily shutting down operations, including some mobile health clinics, following days of extreme violence in parts of the Caribbean nation’s capital Port-au-Prince.
“In a matter of days, violence escalated dramatically in Port-au-Prince, particularly affecting neighbourhoods where the IRC collaborates with local organisations to provide vital services,” the aid group said on Thursday.
73 year old Ariel Henry is a Haitian neurosurgeon and politician who has served as the acting prime minister of Haiti and the acting president of Haiti since 20 July 2021.
The IRC launched its Haiti response plan last December and works with a number of local groups around the capital, where much of the violence has taken place.
Ann Lee, co-founder of U.S.-based crisis response group CORE, which is still operating in Haiti, said many aid groups had left as costs rise, financial aid dwindles and staff operates under increasingly life-threatening conditions.
“We have a staff member who lost her daughter because she was having a seizure and couldn’t get to the hospital,” she said. “We have an employee whose brother was beheaded.”
Since Saturday, the United Nations estimates nearly 5,000 people have fled their homes from areas around Savages Pistaches Carrefour Feuilles, which has been besieged by the Grand Ravine gang.
In a statement, Haiti’s government said police would deploy “all its forces” to restore order to Carrefour Feuilles.
Haiti’s under-gunned police have struggled against heavily armed gangs who have dramatically expanded their territory since last year, with their turf wars driving mass displacements, severe food shortages, murders, kidnappings and sexual violence.
Last October, Haiti’s government called for foreign security assistance but this went unanswered until Kenya stepped up last month. Many nations are wary of lending support to Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s unelected government, considered by many Haitians to be corrupt.
Following a ground assessment in coming weeks, a U.N.-backed plan to send a multinational security force should go to a vote at the U.N. Security Council.
The United States said earlier this month that it would introduce a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing Kenya to lead a multinational police force to fight gangs in Haiti. However, no timetable for such a resolution was given.
The IRC said that even where its partner organizations were working to continue providing services, roadblocks installed by warring gangs were preventing residents from accessing them.
Recalling driving around Port-au-Prince and seeing bodies line the streets, Lee said she supported a Kenyan force but this would not solve the root problems. “The level of violence is unprecedented,” she said.
Gangs have overpowered police, with experts estimating they now control some 80% of the capital, Port-au-Prince. There are only about 10,000 police officers for the country’s more than 11 million people. More than 30 officers were killed from January to June, and more than 400 police facilities are inoperative because of criminal attacks, according to Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) recommended that the U.S. and France recognise their responsibility “for their historic harms and abuses with ongoing impacts and work towards the development of an effective and genuine reparations process led by Haitian people.”
HRW also urged the U.S., Canada, France and other governments to support the creation of a transitional government, with Ariel Henry holding power since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
Haiti became the world’s first Black republic in 1804, with France demanding a 150 million gold franc “independence debt” to compensate for lost slaves and land. The debt crippled the country, which finished paying a reduced debt of 90 million gold coins to French and American banks in 1947.