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Haiti: US, European embassy staff leave amid violence

March 10, 2024

The head of the International Organization for Migration called Port-au-Prince a city under siege. The US airlifted nonessential embassy staff out and the German ambassador and EU representatives also left on Sunday.

A man walking through the burning streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 7, 2024
Violent gangs have taken control of parts of Port-au-PrinceImage: Odelyn Joseph/AP Photo/picture alliance

The United States has airlifted non-essential embassy personnel from Haiti, the US military said on Sunday.

A spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry said later in the day that the German ambassador and EU diplomatic staff had also left the country "as a result of the very tense security situation in Haiti."

He said they had relocated to the Dominican Republic and would work from there until further notice. 

It comes as violent gangs have overrun the country, threatening to bring down the government.

What the US military said about the airlift

"This airlift of personnel into and out of the embassy is consistent with our standard practice for embassy security augmentation worldwide, and no Haitians were on board the military aircraft," the US military's Southern Command said in a statement.

The embassy clarified on social media that it "remains open."

"Heightened gang violence in the neighborhood near US embassy compounds and near the airport led to the State Department's decision to arrange for the departure of additional embassy personnel," it said.

Port-au-Prince 'under siege'

A wave of violence broke out in late February while Prime Minister Ariel Henry was visiting Kenya to push for a UN-backed deployment of a police force from the East African country to fight gangs.

Since then, the criminal gangs have taken control of much of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and have attacked key infrastructure, including two prisons where the majority of the 3,800 inmates were able to escape.

The AFP news agency reported that some residents had broken into public buildings to seek refuge from the violence.

More than 360,000 Haitians have been internally displaced because of the violence, the UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Saturday.

Haiti: Gang violence triggers food and water shortages

"Haitians are unable to lead a decent life. They are living in fear, and every day, every hour this situation carries on, the trauma gets worse," Philippe Branchat, IOM's chief in Haiti, said in a statement.

"People living in the capital are locked in. They have nowhere to go," he said. "The capital is surrounded by armed groups and danger. It is a city under siege."

Meanwhile, the airport in Port-au-Prince remained closed, and the main seaport, which serves as the primary gateway for food imports, suspended operations on Thursday after it reported looting.

"If we cannot access those containers (full of food), Haiti will go hungry soon," the NGO Mercy Corps said.

Pope offers prayers for Haiti

On Sunday, Pope Francis offered his prayers for Haiti amid the spiraling unrest.

"I am following with concern and pain the serious crisis affecting Haiti and the violent episodes that have occurred in recent days," Francis said after his Sunday Angelus prayer.

Francis called for all sides to work towards peace and reconciliation "with the renewed support of the international community."

How the West messed with Haiti

The Caribbean bloc CARICOM has summoned envoys from the US, France, Canada and the United Nations to discuss the violence at a meeting in Jamaica on Monday.

Guyana's President Irfaan Ali said the meeting would take up "critical issues for the stabilization of security and the provision of urgent humanitarian assistance."

zc/mm (AFP, Reuters, epd, KNA)