Haitian-Americans lose hope for loved ones trapped in violence-torn homeland

Haitian-Americans lose hope for loved ones trapped in violence-torn homeland
Haitian-Americans lose hope for loved ones trapped in violence-torn homeland

  • By Cecilia Barria in Miami and Bernd Debusman Jr
  • BBC News

image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Dozens of people were killed in the outbreak of mass violence on 29 February

When Florida resident Gerard thinks about his wife and two young children back home in Haiti, two words immediately come to mind: «Constant stress.»

Gerard, who lives near Fort Lauderdale, is one of more than half a million Haitians who call Florida home — the largest concentration in the United States.

Many say they are now gripped with fear and uncertainty for the family still there amid worsening gang violence.

Federal and state officials periodically evacuate American citizens.

Dozens of people have been killed and at least 17,000 left homeless since well-armed gangs attacked police stations and the country’s main airport in Port-au-Prince on February 29.

The gangs also broke into two of the country’s largest prisons, freeing around 4,000 inmates.

Gerard, who asked that his last name not be used to protect his family in Haiti, told the BBC he constantly worries about the safety of his wife and two children, aged seven and nine, who remain in Haiti. when he returned to live in the US a few months ago.

«My biggest fear is that my house will be attacked by gangs. That’s why I live in constant stress,» he said. «Everyone there is afraid for their life and property. Now the gangs are breaking into people’s houses and stealing everything, and the police are unable to protect them.»

I’m hopeless because I don’t see a solution to the problem,» Gerrard added. «And I am disgusted with the politicians who made the country what it is now.»

Another Florida-based Haitian, the church’s pastor Dr. Wadler Jules, said members of his congregation are «wondering if anyone in their family has been kidnapped or killed» in Haiti, where he says people are «living at the mercy of gangs.»

image source, Wadler Jules

Image caption,

Dr. Wadler Jules’ congregation is in the Little Haiti area of ​​Miami

«Members of our community are living in fear, living in despair,» said Dr. Jules, whose church is in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood. «You don’t know if your loved ones will be alive tomorrow. It’s really scary and there’s no hope.»

Dr. Jules himself was briefly stranded in Haiti after accompanying a member of his congregation a few weeks ago to a funeral in Saint-Louis du Nord.

Eventually, he was able to board a flight to the Dominican Republic. However, fifty members of a sister church are in Port-au-Prince.

«They’re desperate and they can’t go anywhere else because you might get shot,» he said. «Here in Little Haiti, people wonder if there’s any way to get them out of the country. They live in fear, and living in fear is unbearable. It’s suffocating.»

More than 230 American citizens have been evacuated from Haiti in the past week, both from the relatively safe Cap-Haitien, a port city on the island’s north coast, and by helicopter from Port-au-Prince.

Other rescue flights were organized by Florida state officials, including one with 21 people that landed in Orlando, Florida, on Sunday.

Many Haitians and Haitian-Americans say they hope the U.S. will do more to help — including potentially granting refugee status to those fleeing the violence.

«I don’t understand why Haitians are not eligible for this,» said Tessa Pettit, executive director of the Miami-based Immigrant Coalition of Florida. «We’re right there in your backyard … we know we need help from the United States … we just hope so [the US] will intensify quickly.»

Ms. Petit, meanwhile, said she, like many Haitians, hopes «not to get the call that will give us bad news.»

«[That] a call to let us know we’ve lost a friend or a family member,» she said. «There’s a sense of despair and a lot of anger.»

video caption,

Watch: Father welcomes 2-year-old son after Haiti evacuation

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