Canada launches programme to get citizens out of violence-hit Haiti

Canada has launched a programme to get its citizens out of Haiti, as the Caribbean nation grapples with a surge in gang violence, political instability and a widening humanitarian crisis.

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said on Monday that her government would assist “the most vulnerable Canadians” in leaving Haiti for the neighbouring Dominican Republic.

This includes Canadian citizens with medical conditions or those who have children, Joly said.

“At present, the Dominican Republic has strict [eligibility] requirements for all those entering the country. Only Canadian citizens who have a valid Canadian passport will be eligible for this assisted departure,” she told reporters.

Joly said 18 Canadian citizens had left Haiti via the programme on Monday.

Canada is home to nearly 180,000 people of Haitian descent, and Haitian Canadians had called on the government to do more to help their relatives stuck in Haiti amid a weeks-long surge in deadly violence.

In early March, armed gangs launched attacks on police stations, prisons and other state institutions across the capital of Port-au-Prince and demanded the resignation of the unelected Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

More than 360,000 Haitians have been forced to flee their homes as a result of the violence, according to United Nations estimates. Others have been trapped in their homes in Port-au-Prince, unable to access food, water and other supplies.

Humanitarian agencies have warned that the country is facing a growing food crisis. Armed groups have looted containers of aid, and the country’s main airport in Port-au-Prince remains closed due to the violence.

“Previously, 80 percent of Port-au-Prince was dominated by gangs; now, they control nearly 90 percent of neighborhoods,” Laurent Uwumuremyi, the Haiti director at Mercy Corps, said in a statement on Friday.

“Basic tasks, such as shopping for groceries at street markets, pharmacies, or seeing a doctor, are now becoming impossible,” he continued.

“If the situation continues to deteriorate without any efforts to address the unfolding humanitarian crisis, Port-au-Prince will soon find itself completely overwhelmed by this extreme violence.”

Asked on Monday about the logistics of Canada’s evacuation programme, Joly, the foreign minister, said evacuees needed to reach a gathering point in a safe area. From there, they would be transported to the Dominican Republic by helicopter.

“I can’t give details on the nature of the operations because I don’t want those operations to be targeted by the gangs,” she said.

Joly added that the government was looking into other pathways to help other Canadians and their relatives leave Haiti, as well as Canadian permanent residents and their family members.

The United States also launched helicopter evacuations from Haiti last week.

“We are in the process of organising government-chartered helicopter flights from Port-au-Prince to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic,” US State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters on March 20.

“And from Santo Domingo, American citizens will be responsible for their own onward travel to the United States.”

A State Department spokesperson said on Saturday that more than 230 US citizens had left Haiti since March 17, according to US media reports.

This includes departures from Port-au-Prince as well as the northern coastal city of Cap-Haitien, the official said.

The US is home to the largest Haitian diaspora community in the world, with more than 1.1 million people in the country identifying as Haitian in 2022, according to census figures.

Source: Aljazeera

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