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Canada evacuating vulnerable Canadian citizens out of Haiti: Joly

March 27, 2024 
By The Canadian Press


Canada airlifted 18 vulnerable Canadians out of Haiti by helicopter to the Dominican Republic on Monday, and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says more will be offered the chance to evacuate in the coming days.

Haiti has been in a profound security crisis since mid-2021, when gangs took control of key infrastructure and started violent turf wars that have led to the collapse of most of its medical and food systems.

“Gangs are terrorizing the streets; women and children are scared of getting out of their homes,” Joly told a news conference.

The chaos escalated earlier this month when Ariel Henry, Haiti’s unelected prime minister, visited Kenya to confirm plans for an international military intervention led by police from the east African country.

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Gangs freed violent prisoners and took over the international airport in Port-au-Prince, preventing Henry from returning home. The Dominican Republic, which shares an island with Haiti, also turned him away.

Two weeks ago, Henry agreed to resign once a transitional council is formed to oversee the intervention.

Canada has been advising Canadians against travelling to Haiti for two years, but Joly said the government felt compelled to help people escape when all commercial flights to the country were cancelled.

“The difference is now the airport is not functional, the security situation is untenable at the airport,” she said. “That is why in these circumstances it is important for us to be able to bring Canadians to safety.”

The assisted evacuation is only available to people with a valid Canadian passport because of strict eligibility requirements in the Dominican Republic, she added.

Canadian permanent residents, citizens without a valid passport, and the foreign family members of Canadians are not eligible to be airlifted. The government is working on alternatives, Joly said.

“We’ll take it, basically, one day at a time.”

The helicopter ride will be provided at no cost, but Joly’s office said it would be up to individual Canadians to pay for their accommodation in the Dominican Republic and for their travel back to Canada, for which Ottawa provides loans.

There are close to 3,000 Canadians officially registered as remaining in Haiti, said Julie Sunday, assistant deputy minister of consular, security, and emergency management.

However, fewer than 300 have requested assistance to leave the country, including permanent residents and relatives of Canadians.

Fewer still — less than 100 of those asking for help, Joly said — are Canadian citizens with valid passports. Only about 30 of those have indicated they were “travel ready,” Sunday said.

“We’re prioritizing the most vulnerable Canadians — for example, those who have a medical condition or those who have children,” Joly said.

She said Canadians would be evacuated from a “green zone,” a safe location in Haiti. Canadians in past evacuations elsewhere have opted against immediately evacuating for fear of danger reaching an airlift point, Joly added, noting that gangs are taking over empty houses.

Earlier this month, Canada airlifted most of its diplomats from its embassy in Port-au-Prince to the Dominican Republic, where they continue to work remotely because of the increasingly volatile security situation.

Canada’s ambassador to Haiti, André François Giroux, will remain in the country, Joly reiterated Monday. Sunday said that staff working at the embassy can still help issue emergency travel documents to Canadians who lack passports.

Ottawa remains focused on helping Haitians find a way out of the crisis and she reiterated that solutions can’t be imposed by foreigners.

“We know that the Haitian people need us,” Joly said in French.

Canada has also deployed diplomatic and consular staff to assist with the evacuation of vulnerable Canadians from the country.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2024.


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