As Gangs Rampage Through Haiti's Capital, More Than 33,000 People Have Fled In 13 Days, Report Finds

A man transports a coffin using a cart in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, March 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)
A man transports a coffin using a cart in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, March 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)
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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — More than 33,000 people have fled Haiti’s capital in a span of nearly two weeks as gangs continue to pillage homes and attack state institutions, according to a new report from the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration.

The majority of those displaced have traveled to Haiti’s southern region, which is generally peaceful compared with Port-au-Prince, which has an estimated population of 3 million and remains largely paralyzed by gang violence.

“Attacks and generalized insecurity are pushing more and more people to leave the capital to find refuge in provinces, taking the risks of passing through gang-controlled routes,” IOM said in its report released late Thursday.

Scores of people have been killed and some 17,000 people overall left homeless since the gang attacks began on Feb. 29, with gunmen targeting police stations and the main international airport that remains closed. They also stormed Haiti’s two biggest prisons and released more than 4,000 inmates.

Haiti's National Police is understaffed and overwhelmed by gangs with powerful arsenals.

Adding to the crisis is the inability of police officers in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area to cash their checks, Lionel Lazarre, a member of a police union known as SYNAPOHA, told Radio Caraïbes on Friday.

He said they have been unable to do so for nearly a month given the upheaval that has halted operations at the state bank that normally cashes the checks.

Lazarre did not say how many officers have been affected, but he said they need to get paid to be able to feed their families. He said they should be able to cash their checks at any bank, including private ones.

On Friday evening, SYNAPOHA wrote on the X platform that police officers and administrative personnel will soon be able to cash their checks at any bank pending a government announcement Monday.

As police struggle to quell gang violence, the number of those fleeing the capital surges.

More than 90% of those who fled March 8-20 did so by bus, forced to go through the community of Martissant, which connects Port-au-Prince with Haiti’s southern region and is controlled by warring gangs that have killed dozens of civilians in the area.

IOM noted that Haiti’s southern region is already home to another 116,000 people who fled gang violence in previous months, and that rural provinces do not have the infrastructure or resources “to cope with these massive displacement flows coming from the capital.”

The majority of new arrivals have settled in cities like Les Cayes, Jérémie and Léogâne, with more than half of Haitians interviewed saying they chose to relocate to the south because they’re originally from there. Nearly all said they planned to stay with family.

More than 70% of people who fled Port-au-Prince between March 8-20 said gang violence had already left them homeless and that they had been living with relatives or in crowded, makeshift shelters.

More people are expected to leave the capital in upcoming days and weeks as gang violence continues unabated.

The U.S. Department of State said Friday that it had evacuated more than 130 U.S. citizens out of Port-au-Prince since Wednesday and nearly 100 others out of the coastal city of Cap-Haitien in northern Haiti since Sunday.

“We reiterate our message to U.S. citizens: Do not travel to Haiti. U.S. citizens should depart Haiti when transportation options are available, and it is safe to do so,” the department said.

Meanwhile, Caribbean leaders are helping form a transitional presidential council that will be responsible for choosing an interim prime minister and a council of ministers.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry said he would resign once the council is created. He is currently locked out of Haiti, with airports closing when he was on an official trip to Kenya in early March to push for the U.N-backed deployment of a police force from the East African country. That deployment has now been delayed.