US urges citizens to leave Haiti amid deepening turmoil

Rare warning from US State Department comes as Haitian government and police struggle to control gangs

The US government is urging American citizens to leave Haiti because of the country’s deepening insecurity and a severe fuel shortage that has affected hospitals, schools and banks.

A Haitian gang leader on Friday said a group of gangs will temporarily lift a blockade of fuel terminals to allow for petrol distribution after weeks of shortages.

It was not immediately evident how quickly fuel would once again be available.

The rare warning from the US State Department comes as Haiti’s government and police are struggling to control gangs that have blocked fuel distribution terminals for several weeks.

“Widespread fuel shortages may limit essential services in an emergency, including access to banks, money transfers, urgent medical care, internet and telecomms, and public and private transport options," the State Department said this week.

“The US embassy is unlikely to be able to assist US citizens in Haiti with departure if commercial options become unavailable.”

It is unclear how many US citizens currently live in Haiti.

US and Haitian authorities are still trying to secure the safe release of 17 members of a missionary group from Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries who were kidnapped by the 400 Mawozo gang on October 16. There are five children in the group of 16 US citizens and one Canadian. Their Haitian driver was also abducted.

“We request continued prayer for the kidnappers, that God would soften their hearts,” the organisation said in a statement on Wednesday.

“As you pray, remember the millions of Haitians who are suffering through a time of serious upheaval and unrest.”

Canada has also issued a similar warning to citizens. On Thursday, Global Affairs Canada said it would be withdrawing all non-essential personnel from its embassy in Port-au-Prince.

“The security situation in Haiti is rapidly deteriorating and is being exacerbated by ongoing fuel shortages," the agency said in a statement. “As a result, Global Affairs Canada is temporarily withdrawing non-essential Canadian employees as well as family members of Canadian embassy staff from Haiti."

On Tuesday, top Haitian government officials acknowledged the widespread lack of fuel during a news conference and said they were working to resolve the situation, although they provided no details.

The fuel shortage has also threatened Haiti’s water supply, which depends on generators, and hospitals in Port-au-Prince and beyond.

Marc Edson Augustin, director of St Luke Hospital, said he can only care for 50 patients with Covid-19 despite having 120 beds set aside for them because the company that provides oxygen to the institution has been hit by the lack of fuel.

On Wednesday, Doctors Without Borders said that the shortages have forced it to reduce medical care since last week, with staff treating only patients with life-threatening conditions. The aid group said that its hospital and emergency centre will run out of fuel for generators in three weeks or less if new supplies do not arrive.

“As tension and armed conflict escalate in Haiti’s capital, shortages of fuel, public transport and drinking water are putting medical facilities and patients at risk,” the aid group said.

Doctors Without Borders also said that the lack of fuel is preventing staff from reaching the hospital because of the scarcity of public transport. This is a problem seen in other areas, with parents unable to send their children to school and some employees unable to go to work.

The situation has also led to a spike in food prices in a country where more than 60 per cent of the country's 11 million people makes less than $2 a day. Meanwhile, a gallon of gasoline, when available, currently costs $15.

Updated: November 12th 2021, 6:45 PM
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