The National Times - 53,000 people flee Port-au-Prince in three weeks of gang violence: UN

53,000 people flee Port-au-Prince in three weeks of gang violence: UN

53,000 people flee Port-au-Prince in three weeks of gang violence: UN
53,000 people flee Port-au-Prince in three weeks of gang violence: UN / Photo: © AFP

More than 50,000 people fled Port-au-Prince within three weeks last month as an explosion of gang violence shook the Haitian capital, the United Nations said Tuesday.

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Between March 8 and March 27, 53,125 people left the city, according to a report from the UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM), joining the Caribbean nation's 116,000 people already displaced in recent months.

Most of those who fled Port-au-Prince in March headed south, the IOM said, with the vast majority reporting they were leaving "because of violence and insecurity."

"It should be emphasized that (the other) provinces do not have sufficient infrastructures and host communities do not have sufficient resources that can enable them to cope with these massive displacement flows coming from the capital," the IOM report said.

The displacement came as Haiti has been rocked by a surge in violence since February, when its powerful criminal gangs teamed up as they attacked police stations, prisons, the airport and the seaport.

They are seeking to oust Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who has been in power since the assassination of president Jovenel Moise in 2021. Haiti has had no president since then. It also has no sitting parliament, and its last election was in 2016.

It has been wracked for decades by poverty, natural disasters, political instability and gang violence, with Moise's assassination setting off months of spiraling insecurity even before February's clashes.

The fighting has sparked a severe humanitarian crisis, with food shortages and a near-collapse of the health care infrastructure in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

In the first three months of 2024 alone, up to March 22, 1,554 people were killed and 826 injured, the UN said in a separate report last week, calling the situation "cataclysmic."

The report described rampant sexual violence, including women forced into exploitative sexual relations with gang members, rapes of hostages and of women after seeing their husbands killed in front of them.

At least 528 cases of lynchings were reported last year, including 18 women, according to the report, while 59 more have been reported so far this year.

And it highlighted the recruitment and abuse of children -- both boys and girls -- who are unable to leave the ranks of gangs for fear of retaliation.

Despite an international arms embargo put in place to try to stem the violence, the report said that there was still a reliable supply of weapons and ammunition flowing across Haiti's "porous borders".

Unelected and unpopular, Henry announced March 11 he would step down to make way for a so-called transitional council.

But weeks later the council has yet to be formed and installed amid disagreement among the political parties and other stakeholders due to name the next prime minister, and because of doubts over the very legality of such a council.

Kenya, which agreed to lead a long-awaited, UN-approved security mission to Haiti, has put its plans on hold until the transitional council is in place.