Seventeen people, including three children, associated with an American Christian aid group, were kidnapped on Saturday by a gang in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as they were leaving an orphanage, according to a former field director for the group, Christian Aid Ministries.
The former field director, Dan Hooley, said on Sunday morning that all of the adults were staff members for the group, which has fewer than 30 people in the country. Local authorities said the group that was kidnapped included 16 Americans and one Canadian. Mr Dooley said a 2-year-old and another young child were among them.
Christian Aid Ministries said in a “prayer alert” that the missionaries were based in Titanyen, about 17km north of Port-au-Prince, and that they were taken on their way home from visiting an orphanage in Fond Parisien. The alert went on to say that “the field director’s family and one other man had stayed at the base. All the other staff who were on the visit to the orphanage were abducted.”
It also asked for prayers and that “the gang members would come to repentance and faith in Christ”.
The group, which is based in Millersburg, Ohio, says on its website that it “strives to be a trustworthy and efficient channel for Amish, Mennonite, and other conservative Anabaptist groups and individuals to minister to physical and spiritual needs around the world”.
Haiti has been in a state of political upheaval for years, and kidnappings of the rich and poor alike are alarmingly common. But even in a country accustomed to widespread lawlessness, the abduction of such a large group of Americans shocked officials for its brazenness.
Violence is surging across the capital, Port-au-Prince, which is controlled by gangs. By some estimates, gangs now control roughly half the city. On Monday, gangs shot at a school bus in Port-au-Prince, injuring at least five people, including students, while another public bus was hijacked by a gang as well.
Security has broken down as the country’s politics have disintegrated. Demonstrators furious at widespread corruption demanded the ouster of President Jovenel Moïse two years ago, effectively paralysing the country. The standoff prevented the sick from getting treatment in hospitals, children from attending school, workers from going to the rare jobs available and even stopped electricity from flowing in parts of the country.
Since then, gangs have become only more assertive. They operate at will, kidnapping children on their way to school and pastors in the middle of delivering their services. The nation’s political turmoil intensified further after Moïse was assassinated in his home in July, a killing that remains unsolved.
The few remaining officials in the country soon began fighting for control of the government, and the factionalism has continued for months, with officials accusing one another of taking part in the conspiracy to kill the president.
The kidnapping of the American missionaries happened only a day after the United Nations Security Council extended its mission in Haiti by nine months in a unanimous vote on Friday. Many Haitians have been calling for the United States to send troops to stabilise the situation, but the Biden administration has been reluctant to commit boots on the ground.
A state department spokesperson had no comment on the abductions in Haiti on Saturday night. Parts of the Haitian capital, including where the kidnappings occurred, are so dangerous that many residents have fled, leaving once-bustling streets nearly abandoned. Many of the streets have been surrendered to the gangs, with few pedestrians venturing out even during the day.
Gangs have kidnapped even poor street vendors, and when they find little to nothing in their wallets, gang members sometimes demand that they sell off items in their homes, like radios and refrigerators. Earlier this year, a classroom of students got together to raise money to pay the ransom of a fellow student. – This article originally appeared in The New York Times