Canada, the United States urges citizens to leave Haiti amid deepening turmoil

The U.S. and Canadian governments are each urging their citizens to leave Haiti because of the country’s deepening insecurity and severe fuel shortages that have affected hospitals, schools and banks. Gas stations remained closed Thursday.

The U.S. State Department’s rare warning comes as Haiti’s government and police struggle to control gangs that have blocked fuel distribution terminals for several weeks.

“A widespread fuel shortage may limit essential services in an emergency, including access to banks, transfer, emergency medical care, internet and telecommunications, and public and private transportation options,” the State Department warned Wednesday. “The U.S. embassy is unlikely to be able to help U.S. citizens in Haiti with a departure if trade options become inaccessible.”

It is unclear how many U.S. citizens currently live in Haiti. A State Department official told The Associated Press that it does not provide those statistics and U.S. citizens do not have to record their trip to a foreign country.

Canada is retiring non-essential employees

Canada also issued a similar warning on Wednesday: “If you are in Haiti and your presence is not essential, consider leaving if you can do so safely.”

Global Affairs Canada said on Thursday that it is temporarily withdrawing non-essential Canadian employees and family from Canadian Embassy staff in the country.

People pass by a closed gas station in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Thursday. (Matias Delacroix / Associated Press)

“The safety of Canadians is our highest priority at all times, and to that end our embassy in Port-au-Prince remains open,” the statement said.

The warnings come as U.S. and Haitian authorities try to ensure the safe release of 17 members of a missionary group from Ohio-based Christian Auxiliary Ministries who were abducted by the 400 Mawozo gang on October 16. There are five children in the group of 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. Their Haitian driver was also kidnapped.

“Serious disorder and agitation”

“We ask for continued prayer for the kidnappers that God will soften their hearts,” the organization said in a statement on Wednesday. “As you pray, remember the millions of Haitians who suffer through a time of serious disorder and anxiety.”

On Tuesday, top Haitian government officials acknowledged the widespread lack of fuel during a press conference and said they were working to resolve the situation, although they did not give details.

Defense Minister Enold Joseph said the government is investigating why 30 tanks shipped to the southern region of Haiti have disappeared, adding that he has observed petrol sold on the black market.

In addition, newspaper Le Nouvelliste recently reported that truckers were abducted and trucks hijacked.

‘Everything is upside down’

“Everything is upside down,” said Pierre Alex, 35, who works in a factory that makes clothes. He said his son is not able to go to school but also cannot work at home because there is no power and no internet. “I don’t know which saints to call to come and help me.”

The fuel shortage has also threatened Haiti’s water supply, which depends on generators, and hospitals in Port-au-Prince and beyond.

A police officer is patrolling at an intersection in Port-au-Prince on Thursday. (Matias Delacroix / Associated Press)

Marc Edson Augustin, director of St. Luke Hospital, said he can only care for 50 patients with COVID-19 despite having 120 beds reserved for them because the company, which supplies oxygen to the institution, has been hit by the lack of fuel.

On Wednesday, Doctors Without Borders warned that the shortages had forced it to reduce medical care since last week, with employees treating only patients with life-threatening conditions. The relief group said its hospital and emergency center will run out of fuel for generators in three weeks or less if new supplies do not arrive.

Spike in foods

“As tensions and armed conflict escalate in Haiti’s capital, a shortage of fuel, public transportation and drinking water risks medical facilities and patients,” the aid group said. “Almost all public and private health facilities in Port-au-Prince have ceased or limited admission to only acute cases or closed their doors due to similar problems.”

The relief group said one patient with respiratory distress was recently refused in four different medical centers because the lack of fuel forced them to stop admissions. A fifth facility accepted her, officials said.

Doctors Without Borders also said the lack of fuel is preventing employees from reaching the hospital due to the scarcity of public transportation. It is a problem seen elsewhere, with parents unable to send their children to school and some employees unable to go to work.

The situation has also led to an increase in food prices in a country of more than 11 million people, with more than 60 percent of the population earning less than $ 2 a day. Meanwhile, a gallon (about 3.8 liters) of gasoline, when available, currently costs $ 15.

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