SOCIÉTÉ

Photos | Hunted by gangs, victims expelled from state institutions

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Many of the victims lived in camps, after being forced to flee gang violence

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A violent gang attack in Bois Verna threatened to cost him his life, when Arilus fled from the area’s Marie-Jeanne High School only to land at Bourdon’s Office for the Protection of the Citizen (OPC) on March 9, 2024.

Réfugié à l'OPC

A man rushes to the Office for the Protection of the Citizen (OPC) in Bourdon on March 9, 2024, to take refuge. | © Jean Feguens Regala/AyiboPost

The OPC should be “the sentinel of human rights,” according to the carpenter. “I came here because it is a part of my inalienable rights,” declared the man who reported having abandoned his house in Carrefour-Feuilles last year after a gang attack.

A few hours after these statements, police arrived and vigorously expelled Arilus, as well as dozens of other displaced victims, from the OPC, a state institution dedicated to the defense of human rights, according to observations by AyiboPost.

Un réfugié à l'OPC

A man welcomes a lady and invites her to take refuge on the OPC premises, March 9, 2024.

Réfugiés à l'OPC

Displaced people fleeing gang violence in the lower part of the city just arriving in the OPC courtyard to find refuge, on March 9, 2024.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), some 25,000 people were displaced by the unusually violent attacks on state institutions by bandits on February 29, 2024.

These newly displaced victims have settled in 14 other sites, 11 of which are already overcrowded, according to the IOM.

Overcrowded or not, state institutions are not exactly opening their arms to welcome victims.

At the Institute of Social Welfare and Research (IBESR), the victims were chased away with bullets from unidentified individuals, according to the findings of an AyiboPost journalist present on the scene at the time of the events on March 9, 2024.

In the meantime, part of the IBESR has been vandalized. “We cannot find certain files,” Thermilus, an employee, who came to collect files left in bulk at the institution, told AyiboPost.

Institut Bien-etre social Haiti

View of the entrance to the Institute of Social Welfare and Research (IBESR) during the arrival of victims on March 9, 2024.

Many of the victims lived in camps, having been forced to flee gang violence.

This was the case for Gérald, a former resident of Carrefour-Feuilles until November 2022. Expelled from his home by the fury of the gangs, he found refuge for 9 months in a center in Bécassine before landing in Champ-de-Mars.

Recent attacks on police institutions in the area pushed Gérald to take shelter on the premises of the Faculty of Applied Linguistics (FLA), part of the State University of Haiti (UEH).

Faculté linguistique Haiti

The scene at the entrance to the Faculty of Applied Linguistics (FLA) during the arrival of displaced victims on March 9, 2024.

In a note made public on March 11, the UEH rectorate denounced “the storming” of the FLA. Highlighting the material damage this could cause, the institution asked the authorities to take the necessary measures to rehouse the displaced and thus protect the integrity of the academic institution’s property.

According to the vice-president of the camp management committee, Nono David, the space accommodates more than 1,000 people. Most of them come from camps previously set up near Marché Salomon and Champ-de-Mars. Other refugees continue to join them, reports Nono David posing a risk of increased promiscuity, explains the committee member.

Réfugiés Faculté Linguistique

A woman sleeps on cardboard and pieces of fabric in a room at the Faculty of Applied Linguistics (FLA) on March 9, 2024, while two others take care of their children.

The day after the gang attack on the National Penitentiary on March 2, 2024, more than 100 victims found refuge at the Ministry of Communication. The repression has not yet caught up with them, but according to an official, the center suffers from a severe lack of drinking water.

Camp Ministère de la communication Haiti

Displaced victims at the Ministry of Communication in Port-au-Prince, interviewed by journalists, March 9, 2024.

Sitting on a small stool in the corner of a large ministry room, Ghislaine, her back bent under the weight of her 70 years, can barely contain her grief. Armed bandits burned her residence a few meters from Fort Samedi in Carrefour-Feuilles in 2023. She went to the Fritz Pierre-Louis High School before settling down at the ministry.

“In addition to having lost everything, I suffer from rheumatism,” she told AyiboPost. These are pieces of fabric given to us by benefactors that serve as a blankets here. »

Ministère Communication P-au-P Refuge

A view of the facade of the Ministry of Communication on March 9, 2024, where displaced victims are settling.

On the rear balcony of the ministry, Marilyna Léon, visibly in her fifties, steps feebly forward.

A mother of 5, Léon’s journey began in November 2023 when heavily armed individuals ransacked and burned down her house in Caridad, a town in Carrefour-Feuilles.

Having since taken refuge on the premises of the Fritz Pierre Louis High School, she had to flee again on Sunday, March 3 because of the gang attacks. “I lost my house and my small business,” says Léon. “For now, I live day by day.”

Une réfugiée Ministere Communication P-au-P

This woman watches fellow victims at the Ministry of Communication express their frustration, while saying she is hungry, ignoring journalists’ questions, March 9, 2024.

Sitting on a step of the ministry staircase, Nancy Mézylas breastfeeds a four-month-old baby, swaddled in a piece of second-hand linen. The mother of 3 also left Fritz Pierre-Louis High School where she had taken shelter after the bandits burned down her home on Rue Joseph Janvier in Port-au-Prince. “The situation is chaotic for us, says Mézylas. I can barely make ends meet.”

Refuge Ministère Communication Haiti

On March 9, 2024, a young woman leaves the courtyard of the Ministry of Communication holding an infant.

Refugiée Ministère Communication Haiti

A young woman leaves the courtyard of the Ministry of Communication on March 9, 2024, carrying a baby.

At 4 o’clock in the afternoon on Monday, March 11, 2024, the premises of the Ministry of Communication resembled a vast open-air market. Vendors, behind their stalls, sell fried foods that they fish out, at arm’s length, from cauldrons blackened by flames. In the neighborhood, a few people are standing, wringing out clothes in a laundry area. The cluttered rooms are filled with displaced people who sleep on the floor, alongside a few makeshift suitcases.

Camp Ministere de la communication

A view of the courtyard at the Ministry of Communication, March 9, 2024, occupied by displaced people fleeing gang violence in the lower part of the city.

Elsewhere in Port-au-Prince, poor hygienic conditions, lack of food and violence constitute the daily lot of people living in the camps, according to testimonies collected on site by AyiboPost.

Walguens Pierre-Jean lived on Avenue Fouchard, where he worked as a painter. During the acts of violence by bandits in this area on August 2023, he lost more than 100 paintings.

The professional first set up shop at the Occide Jeanty kiosk, before landing at the Rex Theater in September 2023, in the heart of the Champ-de-Mars.

Camp Rex Théâtre Haiti

A woman calling herself an artist, used to dancing rara choreographies during carnivals, takes refuge at the Rex Theater. She cries, seeing her predicament as gangs chase her from her home.

The space was partially destroyed during the 2010 earthquake. It houses around 1,068 displaced people, according to Pierre-Jean, vice-president of the management committee of this center. “Living in a cracked building is very risky. We are aware of the danger,” the artist told AyiboPost.

Rex Théâtre réfugiés

Corner at the Rex Theater camp where people displaced by gang violence relieve themselves.

Enfants Rex Theatre

A child walks to the corner of Rex Theater’s encampment.

On the heels of the latest attacks around the Champ-de-Mars, « we received a first group of 165 people, then another of 70, » says the manager. The new arrivals used to live on Rue Monseigneur Guilloux, Rue de l’Enterrement, Rue de la Réunion or Rue Alerte, near the cemetery of Port-au-Prince.

The sanitary conditions inside and around the Rex are disastrous. “We can’t protect ourselves against the rain, says Pierre-Jean. The displaced people relieve themselves around the building. There are no showers for women to bathe discreetly.”

Rex Théâtre Déplacés

A view of part of the Rex Theater camp where displaced victims are setting up tents.

Since Saturday, March 9, most of the occupants of the Rex Theater have been receiving hot meals from the World Food Program (WFP).

At the Marie Jeanne High School in Bois Verna, “the situation is chaotic,” laments John Élysée, head of this camp. Nearly 3,000 people are living there without medicine, drinking water or electricity, according to Élysée. “Since November 2023, people have not received any food assistance,” says the official. “[Most] live from begging.”

Camp Lycée Marie Jeanne Haiti

A view of the conditions in which people displaced by gang violence find themselves at Marie Jeanne High School on March 9, 2024

Lycée Marie Jeanne

A view of the conditions in which people seeking refuge find themselves at Marie Jeanne High School on March 9, 2024.

At the Lycée des Jeunes Filles located on Rue Jean Paul II, residents have not received any assistance since December 2023, according to the head of security of this camp, Elysée Jean-Pierre.

After the gang raids on March 2, 2024, 730 new people joined the facililty. “Detonations and stray bullets are our biggest worry,” says Jean Pierre.

At the high school since November 2023, Chantal Paris, a lady in her fifties, explains in a broken voice how armed bandits attacked and looted her small business selling food stuffs at Impasse Eddy.

At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, this Monday, March 11, Paris and other people are busy eating their first meal of the day. In the roof made of sheet metal, bullet holes are visible.

Rex Theatre Haiti

A view of part of the Rex Theater camp where displaced people are setting up tents.

Women are paying a heavy price for the disastrous situation in the camps.

For example, the tents at the Rex Theater offer minimal protection to occupants from bad weather.

“We lack privacy here, complains one lady. We have no space to carry out tasks as basic as taking a bath. Moreover, the quality of the water we use for personal and intimate hygiene is not good. »

Reportedly, many women at the camp suffer from itchy skin and other symptoms of vaginal infections.

Rex Théâtre Réfuge

View of the interior of a tent at the Rex Theater on March 9, 2024.

The same observation was made on the premises of the Antenor Firmin High School, where the number of people who found refuge there increased from 3,000 to more than 4,000 people, according to Fernando, a member of the camp managing committee.

“Many children suffer from fever, itchy skin, and ringworms on the head,” says the former resident of Savane Pistache.

Dormir a FLA

A room at the Faculty of Linguistics in P-au-P was transformed into a bedroom to accommodate more than a dozen people on March 9, 2024.

Marie Thérèse Delimar, a mother of 6 children, including five girls, says she encountered difficulties finding a sanitary napkin for one of her daughters who had just had her first period.

Fearing for the privacy and physical safety of her daughters, Delimar claims to sleep with her eyes open. “At bedtime in the evening, I place an assortment of objects resistant enough to prevent any intrusion in front of the entrance,” she explains.

Une fille Faculté linguistique

A child, whose parents are taking refuge in the FLA premises, is writing, sitting on a faculty desk, on March 9, 2024.

At the Ministry of Culture and Communication, Alexandre Erickson, a camp manager, fears the incidents of harassment and sexual violence.

According to him, several complaints and remarks have been reported in this regard by women. “The situation is beyond me,” the manager told AyiboPost. “I am appealing for help because women and girls here are exposed to incidents of sexual assault every day.”

Rex Théâtre - Abris

View of the interior of a tent at the Rex Theater on March 9, 2024.

Around a dozen pregnant women and nearly 6 mothers to infants find shelter at the ministry, an inadequate environment, both in terms of health standards and suitable hygienic facilities.

By Rolph Louis-Jeune, Junior Legrand, Lucnise Duquereste, Wethzer Piercin et Jean Feguens Regala

Cover image: A view of the courtyard of the Ministry of Communication, March 9, 2024, occupied by displaced people fleeing gang violence in the lower part of the city.| © Jean Feguens Regala/AyiboPost


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Louis-Jeune est journaliste à AyiboPost depuis avril 2023. Il a fait des études en philosophie et en science politique à l'Université d'État d'Haïti.

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