A group of 17 American missionaries and their families, including children, was kidnapped this Saturday by a gang in Haiti, according to a voice message sent to various religious missions by an organization with direct knowledge of the incident, the AP reported.
The missionaries were in a vehicle on their way home to Titanyen, north of the capital, after visiting an orphanage in the Croix des Bouquets area, according to a message from Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries.
“This is a special prayer alert,” the one-minute message read. “Pray for the gang members to come to repentance.”
According to the message, the mission’s field director is working with the US embassy, and his family and another unidentified man stayed at the ministry base while everyone else visited the orphanage.
No further details were immediately released, but local authorities said the missionaries were kidnapped from a bus heading to the airport to drop off part of the group before continuing to another destination in Haiti, it reported. The New York Times.
A spokesman for the United States government said they were aware of the reports of the kidnapping.
“The welfare and safety of US citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the State Department,” the spokesman said, declining to comment further.
Increase in kidnappings in Haiti
Since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on July 7, and a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck southwestern Haiti in August and killed more than 2,200 people, the country has once again seen an increase in violence and instability, like kidnappings by gangs, a problem that had diminished.
The gangs are demanding ransoms ranging from hundreds of dollars to more than a million, according to authorities.
Last month, a deacon was killed outside a church in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and his wife was kidnapped, one of dozens of people who have been kidnapped in recent months.
At least 328 kidnapping victims were reported to the Haitian National Police in the first eight months of 2021, compared to a total of 234 in all of 2020, according to a report released last month by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti, known as BINUH.
The gangs have been accused of kidnapping school children, doctors, policemen, buses full of passengers and others as they become more powerful. In April, a gang kidnapped five priests and two nuns, a measure that provoked a protest similar to the one organized for this Monday to denounce the lack of security in the impoverished country.
“Worsening of the humanitarian situation”
“Political turmoil, increased gang violence, deteriorating socioeconomic conditions, including food insecurity and malnutrition, contribute to the worsening humanitarian situation,” BINUH said in its report. “An overloaded and under-resourced police force alone cannot address Haiti’s security problems.”
The kidnapping of the missionaries comes a few days after they High-level US officials will visit Haiti and promise more resources for that country’s National Police, including another $ 15 million to help reduce gang violence, which this year has displaced thousands of Haitians now living in temporary shelters in increasingly unhealthy conditions
Among those who met with the Haitian police chief was Uzra Zeya, the US undersecretary of state for civil security, democracy and human rights.
“Dismantling violent gangs is vital to stability and citizen security in Haiti,” he recently tweeted.