Kidnapping in Haiti shines spotlight on gangs, risk experts say

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A sign marks the entrance to the Christian Aid Ministries headquarters in Millersburg, Ohio, United States, October 17, 2021. REUTERS / Aaron Josefczyk // File Photo

NEW YORK, Oct. 18 (Reuters) – Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries pulled US staff out of the country for nine months due to political unrest before firing them last year, according to the group’s 2020 annual report .

The kidnapping of 17 missionaries over the weekend highlighted a different and growing concern.

Control Risks, a London-based risk consultancy with clients in Haiti, said in an email to Reuters on Monday that “previously our main concern was political stability amid high levels of anti-government protests.”

“Now we are focusing on better understanding the heightened power of criminal groups and the extremely volatile political environment,” said the cabinet, which works with nonprofits and international corporations.

Kidnappings have become more frequent in recent months amid a growing political and economic crisis, with at least 628 incidents in the first nine months of 2021, according to a report from the Haitian nonprofit Center for Analysis and Research on human rights.

Control Risks, without providing figures, said kidnappings in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, have overtaken much larger metropolitan areas in the Americas such as Sao Paulo and Mexico City in raw numbers this year. In Haiti, 9 of these kidnappings take place in the metropolitan area of ​​Port-au-Prince, Control Risks told Reuters.

In per capita terms, Haiti is the worst affected country in the world, Control Risks said.

The victims are generally members of the Haitian middle class. Haitians held a nationwide general strike on Monday to protest the kidnappings.

PRECARIOUS SITUATION

Hope for Haiti, a non-profit organization that operates in southern Haiti to improve infrastructure, access to education and health care on the impoverished island, has suspended all travel for its staff in the capital over a year ago, CEO Skyler Badenoch said in a telephone interview. Hope for Haiti, which has its US headquarters in Florida, currently has over 100 people in Haiti.

“I was quite surprised when I heard that there was a bus (…) of 17 people circulating around Port-au-Prince,” Badenoch said, referring to missionaries from Christian Aid Ministries ( CAM).

CAM did not respond to Reuters requests for comment. The group said in a statement Monday that civilian authorities in Haiti and the United States were offering assistance following the kidnapping.

“While we want the safe release of our workers, we also want the kidnappers to be transformed by the love of Jesus,” CAM added.

A Canadian and 16 Americans from CAM were visiting an orphanage when their bus was hijacked outside the capital Port-au-Prince on Saturday, other missionaries said.

According to its annual report, much of CAM’s work in Haiti is located in La Source, in the far west of the capital, and in Titanyen, on the northern outskirts of Port-au-Prince. Her work in Haiti includes operating clinics, supporting orphans, and creating jobs in community projects for Haitians.

In 2019, it emerged that an employee of the Christian group had assaulted children while working for the organization in Haiti, and CAM officials had known about it for years.

CAM said in a May 2020 statement that it had amicably settled a civil case against the group in Haiti.

Haiti has seen its already precarious security situation deteriorate following the assassination in July of President Jovenel Moise. In August, the US State Department issued a “do not travel” advisory to Haiti.

Large numbers of migrants from the long-troubled country arrived at the US-Mexico border last month, facing a wave of deportations.

Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas; Editing by Donna Bryson and Aurora Ellis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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