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In the 'shooting zones' of Haiti

A family walking with their possessions and an umbrella, outdoors, in the sun

People take refuge as Haitians are forced to flee their homes amid spiraling gang violence in Port-au-Prince. Photo: Guerinault Louis/Anadolu via Getty Images

People take refuge as Haitians are forced to flee their homes amid spiraling gang violence in Port-au-Prince. Photo: Guerinault Louis/Anadolu via Getty Images

As violence has escalated in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, CARE’s country staff has not been spared. The organization’s country office has been in Port-au-Prince since 1954, but now the majority of the field work is taking place in five offices away from the capital. Billy Dason*, a CARE Haiti staff member, has provided a real-time perspective in his own words of what it has been like to live through the upheaval.

Today, Haiti is one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

In Port-au-Prince, all schools have closed their doors under threats of arson. Private businesses there are either being looted or forced to regularly pay a fee to continue functioning on top of risks of kidnappings.

Following the violence which erupted on Feb. 29, 2024, a state of emergency was declared on March 4 together with a renewable curfew from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m., to allow the state security apparatus, including the army, to regain control of the capital. Armed gangs attacked the Port-au-Prince penitentiary center, releasing over 4,000 prisoners.

On March 2, Toussaint Louverture International Airport had to close its doors, halting all operations due to sustained heavy shooting by gangs.

For nearly three months now, political instability, insecurity, violence, rape, and looting have plunged the entire country into endless chaos.

‘All areas are red’

My name is Billy Dason, and I am an employee of CARE Haiti. A few months ago, several new areas, including the area where I live, “Tabarre 23,” were considered “red zones” by CARE Haiti’s security, meaning no vehicle and personnel movements in the areas are allowed. This is for safety and security of its employees. 

Unfortunately, today large parts of Port-au-Prince fall within the red zones. The armed gangs are now controlling around 85 percent of Port-au-Prince. 

Since Feb. 29, near my home the gunfire never stops. Before, we rarely heard it in the evenings. Today, it’s morning and evening. For several weeks, I only slept for 30 minutes to 1 hour per day. I had to put all my important documents in a bag near my bed to be able to anticipate a solution in the event of an attack on my house. 

I try to hold on for my five-year-old son by pretending to smile in the morning, but now it’s not enough. The whole neighborhood is in a panic. We have no electricity, and food in the area is starting to run out. Sometimes, I have to travel long distances by a motorcycle to get access to food provisions. Tabarre is in dark times, and we have nowhere to take refuge at the moment.

A woman holds a child outdoors, back to camera, next to a car with a bullet hole in the windshield.
A woman with a child walks past a car hit by a bullet, as Haitians were forced to flee their homes amid spiraling gang violence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Gangs have continued attacking police stations and other official institutions, which has the police besieged and outnumbered to combat the armed gangs. According to official figures, a dozen police buildings have been attacked. Photo: Guerinault Louis/Anadolu via Getty Images

Robbed, forced from homes

On March 23 several hundred men from gang groups came to the area. Armed, they enter people’s homes with a specific goal: to find money and, if possible, electronic equipment. They broke into my home. We had money set aside for our relocation; they took everything and left. In neighboring houses, they beat people who couldn’t give money and kidnapped several other residents as ransom guarantees.

On March 25 we were forced to flee the house without a clear idea of where to go. I had to send my child to the province for safety, and since that Monday, I’ve been staying at the hotel so I can continue to work, without lots of disturbance.

Since weeks now, amid looting, kidnapping, sexual violence, and murder, residents try their best to cling to the little hope they have left. Hunger is threatening to set in and grow visibly. Today, in the streets of Port-Au-Prince, adults fight each other for a scrap of anything to eat, and from the mouths of the young, you hear, “I’m so hungry, if only I knew how, I would have already joined this gang or that gang.”

Food, fuel prices spiking

In the shooting zones, several families are unable to leave their homes, while others are unable to return home to fetch their wives, husbands, or children. Some are trapped inside their homes for several days because they didn’t have time to escape before the gunfire began. 

The price of food is constantly increasing, up by around 25 percent today. The scarcity of fuel has driven up public transportation prices and food prices. The purchasing power of the population of Port-au-Prince is rapidly decreasing, at its lowest level in the past few years.

Entire families are forced to leave their homes to go to relatives or, for most, to open-air places serving as temporary displacement sites; for others, to monasteries where they desperately seek a place to sleep and settle. The resurgence of armed violence in Haiti has triggered a deep humanitarian crisis and, in its wake, an increase in the number of internally displaced people, majority of whom are children and women. It is said that more than 362,000 Part-Au-Prince residents are displaced from their homes. 

In the streets of Port-au-Prince, especially in the lower part of the city, the scenario remains the same. Buring of tires at times, people fleeing to avoid gunfire. The streets are paved with filth, which will soon expose us to new cases of disease. In fact, there are reported cases of cholera in parts of the city.

Haiti is in desperate need of a well-funded humanitarian intervention, along with a solution to the gang issue. The humanitarian community struggled to meet the escalating needs in 2023 when roughly one third of Haiti’s Humanitarian Response Plan was funded. This year, the funding gap looks set to widen as needs skyrocket. To that end, through the first quarter of 2024, only seven percent of the Plan has been funded.

*Name changed

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