Haitian Families Forced to Seek Shelter in Port-au-Prince Amidst Gang Attacks
Fleeing from fire and bullets
Thousands of Haitians have sought refuge in schools and a theater in the main square of Port-au-Prince, after armed gangs torched their homes and fired at them in the latest wave of violence that has displaced more than 10,000 people in the past two weeks.
The Gran Ravine gang, led by Renel Destina, has been terrorizing the densely populated neighborhood of Carrefour Feuilles for weeks, forcing aid workers to withdraw and residents to flee for their lives. The under-resourced police have been unable to stop the attacks.
Dailove Pompilus, who was nine months pregnant, said she had no choice but to come to the Champ de Mars square after the gang burned down her house with her 3-year-old son inside.
“My first child,” she said. “They killed him.”
Sophia Jean, another resident, escaped with her 8-month-old baby and the clothes on her back. “I did not have time to take anything,” she said.
By nightfall, they joined hundreds of other people who had taken shelter at nearby schools and the Rex theater.
Yves Penel, a theater manager, said they had formed committees to manage food, water, and hygiene.
“I grew up in Carrefour Feuilles,” he said. “We will do what we have to do.”
Thursday night marked the first time since the catastrophic 2010 earthquake that people have camped in the Champ de Mars, the capital’s main square that is home to historical monuments honoring heroes of the Haitian Revolution.
The square has become a symbol of Haiti’s plight, as well as a place of hope and resistance.
“They shot at us,” said Clerina Coffy, who ran from Place Jeremie, a makeshift camp roughly 1 mile (1.5 km) away, with her three children on Thursday night. “We are here because we have nowhere to go with the kids.”
Some people tried to leave the city, gathering at a bus station, while others stayed and reinforced barricades against the gangs.
With school classes set to resume this month but many buildings now hosting displaced people, the education ministry called for their protection.
A cry for help
Haiti’s gang warfare has left some 2,500 dead and 1,000 injured since January, according to the U.N., amid widespread kidnappings, lynchings, and sexual violence.
The U.N. Security Council is expected to vote on a plan to send international security assistance, which Haiti’s unelected government requested last October. A Kenyan delegation met with police chiefs last month but countries have been wary and a multinational force has yet to materialize.
Haiti’s acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry has appealed for help from the international community to restore order and stability in the country.
“We need your support,” he said in a video message on Friday. “We need your solidarity.”
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