An Alberta-based religious missionary group said it’s fleeing Haiti as violence continued to spread across the Caribbean republic Friday.
Haiti ARISE, based in Airdrie, Alta., said Friday it has hired three helicopters to get its group of 24 people to the airport.
On Saturday morning, the missionaries were airlifted to the airport in Port-au-Prince, which remains open despite the protests.
“Our first group of nine landed at the airport in Port-au-Prince, and some of them have already flown out on flights to Miami,” Haiti Arise vice president James Roberts told Global News Morning.
According to officials with Haiti Arise, helicopter is the only way to get people out of the area safely, and most other organizations are also hiring helicopters for their volunteers.
Haiti Arise spokesperson Tammy Love said the plan is to get 24 people out of Haiti and back to Canada by Sunday.
The group of short-term missionaries were supposed to come back to Canada on Wednesday after 10 days of volunteering at the facility.
“They’re actually in pretty good spirits,” Roberts said. “Their hearts go out to the Haitian people, because they’re able to get out, they’re able to come home to their families… but the Haitian people are stuck there, and it’s only going to get worse.”
Global Affairs raised its travel warning for Haiti Friday morning, telling all Canadians to avoid all travel due to civil unrest in the country.
Violent protests have been taking place in Port-au-Prince since Feb. 7.
Canada’s embassy in Haiti also closed this week.
Protests demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moise have claimed several lives over the past week.
Many Haitians are angry about skyrocketing inflation and the government’s failure to prosecute embezzlement from a multi-billion-dollar Venezuelan program that sent discounted oil to the country.
WATCH BELOW: Protests in Haiti turn deadly
Love said they have to leave behind about 100 Haitian staff members. The founder of the group, Marc Honorat, has opted to stay in the country.
According to Roberts, the volunteers were safe at the compound throughout the week, but the main concern was a shortage of food.
“All the food depots are closed, all the fuel depots are closed, nothing is happening, nothing is going on,” Roberts said. “We don’t want to have Canadians taking food that could possibly be for Haitians.”
The group of missionaries were volunteering at a compound run by Haiti Arise that provides services, education and lodging for impoverished and orphaned Haitians.
“It’s a dire situation all around,” Love said.
Haiti Arise has been working in Haiti since 2003.
— With files from Global News’ Kate Dangerfield and the Associated Press