US calls for citizens to exit Haiti quickly as violence escalates

Hundreds gather in capital chanting for prime minister Ariel Henry to step down and expressing support for gang leader Johnson ‘Izo’ Andre

The United States called for its citizens to leave Haiti “as soon as possible” after violence escalated late last week, when 15,000 more people fled the fighting and armed men freed thousands of inmates from Haiti’s largest prison.

The US, which is home to more than a million Haitians, said its embassy would be offering limited operations on Monday while Canada said it would temporarily close its embassy.

This follows the Haitian government’s declaration of a state of emergency on Sunday evening after violent clashes in the capital damaged communications services and led to a prison escape as the leader of the major G9 gang alliance sought to oust the prime minister.

Later on Monday, hundreds of people, reportedly escaped inmates, gathered in the capital chanting for prime minister Ariel Henry to step down, and expressing their support for Johnson “Izo” Andre, a leader of a gang linked to the capital’s other main gang alliance, G-Pep.


The Organization of American States (OAS) said it was deeply concerned and that it was necessary to promote co-operation with the United Nations to restore security: “It is irresponsible that the necessary measures and actions continue to be delayed.”

The UN last October ratified a plan to send an international force, based on voluntary contributions from member states, to help Haitian police restore security – a year after Mr Henry had first requested this.

There is as yet no deployment date, however, and as of the end of February the United Nations said five nations had formally pledged troops – The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin and Chad – and that less than $11 million (€10.13 million) had been deposited in its fund.

The largest public pledges for personnel come from Benin, which offered 1,500 people according to the UN, and Kenya, which late last week sealed a deal with Mr Henry to lead the mission with some 1,000 police officers, after legal setbacks.

Haiti’s national police is down by more than 3,000 officers in the last three years, according to its union, with many calling for stronger protections, better equipment and better pay amid deadly clashes with gangs armed with assault weapons, believed to have been trafficked in largely from the US.

Between Thursday and Saturday last week, the UN estimated that close to 15,000 people had been forced to flee their locations, including those already in makeshift camps for displaced people set up in schools, hospitals and squares around the capital.

The UN estimated earlier this year more than 300,000 people had fled their homes due to the worsening gang conflict, which saw close to 5,000 killed last year.

Aid groups, faced with underfunded campaigns, have urged the international force to prioritise securing routes for providing people with medical care and food, as the UN warns that millions of people are facing acute hunger. – Reuters