The international medical charity Doctors Without Borders has temporarily closed its hospital in a violence-plagued area of the Haitian capital as it can no longer guarantee the safety of staff and patients amid clashes between armed groups.
The organization — known as Médecins Sans Frontières, by its French-language acronym — said on Thursday that “heavily armed rival groups” were engaged in violent fighting “just meters” from the hospital complex in the Cite-Soleil neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. .
“We are looking at a war scene just meters from our hospital,” says Vincent Harris, a Doctors Without Borders medical adviser rack. “While the hospital is not the target, we are an additional casualty of the fighting as the hospital is on the front lines of the fighting.”
Harris added that MSF teams “cannot operate until security conditions are ensured”.
Gang violence has been on the rise in Port-au-Prince in recent months, after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021 exacerbated widespread political instability and created a power vacuum.
The United Nations said in November that armed gangs controlled about 60 percent of the capital, where they were waging a campaign of murder, kidnapping and sexual violence in an attempt to expand their influence and “terrorize” residents.
On Thursday, MSF said violence has spread to every part of Port-au-Prince, displacing many residents who now “live in squalid conditions with limited access to clean drinking water”.
The organization also said it had documented a tenfold increase in the number of gunshot victims seeking treatment at an emergency center in Turgeau, a downtown neighborhood.
“Since fighting resumed near Bel Air on February 28, we have received many children, women and the elderly,” Dr Freddy Samson, MSF’s manager of medical activities, said in the statement.
“It is appalling to see the number of secondary casualties from these skirmishes. It is difficult to say how many people in total have been injured in the city, because many people are too afraid to leave their neighbourhoods.”
Late last year, acting Prime Minister of Haiti Ariel Henry called for the deployment of an international force in Haiti to restore order and quell the violence.
The demand received the support of the United Nations and the United States, but also sparked new protests, with many Haitians rejecting the prospect of foreign intervention. Some Haitian civil society leaders have also said Henry lacks legitimacy and have called for him to step down.
Since then, Washington-led efforts to mount “a non-UN partner-country-led mission” to Haiti have stalled as President Joe Biden’s administration has so far failed to get another country to to agree to lead such a force.
Instead, the US and its allies, especially Canada, have issued a series of sanctions against Haitian officials and others accused of helping the gangs destabilize the country and engaging in illegal activities, including drug trafficking.
In an interview with Reuters news agency this week, Canada’s top general expressed concern over the Canadian military’s ability to lead a mission to Haiti.
“My concern is only our capacity during reconstruction as we move to brigade level in Latvia,” Chief of the Defense Staff Wayne Eyre told Reuters on Wednesday. “There’s only so much to go around…It would be challenging.”
Eyre also said in the interview that the solution to the crisis in Haiti “has to come from the host country itself”. “They have to own the solution,” he said.
In addition to the barrage of sanctions, Canada announced in January that it had supplied armored vehicles already purchased by Haiti to the national police force in Port-au-Prince to help fight the gangs.
“It was clear to us that Canada would not stand idly by while the gangs and their supporters continue to terrorize the vulnerable populations of Haiti with impunity,” Melanie Joly, Canada’s foreign minister, said in a statement at the time.
“We will also continue to step up the pressure by imposing corruption sanctions on the Haitian elites. Canada calls on the international community to follow our example and help (the) Haitian people face the complex challenges and violence in their country.”