World News 23 Mart 2024

Nowhere to go for people caught in the crossfire as gang violence spreads across Haiti's capital

Nowhere to go for people caught in the crossfire as gang violence spreads across Haiti's capital

When it comes, the gang violence is lethal and nobody in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince knows when or where it will flare up next.

Thousands have been forced to leave their homes and those capable of leaving the city do so on buses and in cars, heading north away from the fighting.

But tens of thousands simply can’t get away.

They’re now living rough or in buildings that they have taken over.

A huge argument erupts outside the locked gates of Haiti’s communications ministry building.

Hundreds of families have moved in, and a group of their male family members strictly control who can and who cannot enter.

The gates are locked to keep the gangs outside, and getting in takes negotiation with these men.

They all have families camping in the ministry compound.

They tell us there are 1,956 people here.

Nowhere to go for people caught in the crossfire as gang violence spreads across Haiti's capital
Image:
Injured men in the communications ministry building

Once inside we are faced with a rowdy queue of people waiting for a handout of meagre supplies of donated food.

There is hardly anything, but they are short of everything, so they’ll take whatever they can get.

The communications ministry building has become a sanctuary for people who have been forced out of their homes in the violence that is sweeping Port-au-Prince.

Nowhere to go for people caught in the crossfire as gang violence spreads across Haiti's capital
Image:
Displaced families in the communications ministry building

Nowhere to go for people caught in the crossfire as gang violence spreads across Haiti's capital
Image:
Nearly 2,000 people are in the communications ministry building

This is the only place they could find to give them some protection.

That they are in a government building abandoned by the authorities pretty much sums up the chaos here in Port-au-Prince.

Inside families with young children sleep anywhere they can find a space, while the elderly and sick are gathered in a courtyard in an area designated especially for them.

All they can do is sit and wait and hope that this gang uprising comes to an end.

In a room next to the courtyard people caught in the crossfire sit on the floors. Some have been shot multiple times.

They’re receiving no medical attention – any medicine they had has long since run out.

There is nowhere for them to go.

Read more:
What happened to Haiti?
Prominent Haitian gang leader shot dead by police
Bodies seen in streets as Haitian gangs attack upmarket areas
The moment I met Haitian gang boss known as Barbecue

Nowhere to go for people caught in the crossfire as gang violence spreads across Haiti's capital
Image:
Hundreds of people are sheltering in the communications ministry building during the violence

Bienvil Jovenè is one of the injured. He says he was caught up in a completely random attack.

“I don’t know where the bullet came from, I just got shot, I lost everything, and I can’t get home.”

His bullet wounds have not been treated properly, and he says he has no idea what to do.

Mr Jovenè can’t go home, he can’t go to hospital, and there is nobody to help.

Whole families are stuck in this government building alongside the wounded and the elderly.

There are children everywhere, some play under the desks that government ministers once sat at.

Lanié Eva has been forced to live here temporarily with her four children. I asked if we could meet her children as well, and she told me they’re on the street begging – she doesn’t know what else to do. They have to eat somehow.

This is desperate stuff.

Nowhere to go for people caught in the crossfire as gang violence spreads across Haiti's capital
Image:
Lanié Eva has been displaced with her children

Nowhere to go for people caught in the crossfire as gang violence spreads across Haiti's capital
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“I have no choice,” she said. “I have to sleep here because I can’t sleep on the street it’s not safe, there’s no government helping us, we need someone to help us out, aside from God there is nobody to help us, and we are in misery here.”

On the streets of Port-au-Prince there is a tension, a feeling that anything could happen at any point. We drive towards the presidential palace, the scene of some of the fiercest battles between the gangs and the security forces.

It is eerily quiet, there are barricades everywhere, and a lone police vehicle guards the entrance. The nearby ministry of justice building is empty.

Nowhere to go for people caught in the crossfire as gang violence spreads across Haiti's capital
Image:
Barricades are seen all over the capital

We don’t spend long in the area because we are told we are most likely being watched by the gangs who have crept onto these streets.

Across Port-au-Prince the signs of violence like burnt out cars and damaged roads are everywhere.

We drive to the edge of a major road that is all but deserted.

Nowhere to go for people caught in the crossfire as gang violence spreads across Haiti's capital
Image:
A road leading to a Barbecue’s territory

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From 12 March: Haitian gang leader Barbecue issues warning

The road, with a lone stationary yellow school bus on it, signals the start of Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier’s gangland territory.

Nobody dares drive through it.

It’s in many ways a symbol of the gang’s power, and the problems Haiti faces.

The gang coalition led by Barbecue is threatening to increase its violence if Haiti’s politicians try to take back control.

It means that this always troubled country is descending into even more chaos.

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