Canada is pulling all non-essential staff from its embassy in Haiti and urging Canadian travellers to leave the country amid deepening insecurity and a severe lack of fuel that has affected hospitals, schools and banks.
Global Affairs Canada said in a statement Thursday it is temporarily withdrawing non-essential Canadian employees as well as family members of embassy staff.
“The security situation in Haiti is rapidly deteriorating and is being exacerbated by ongoing fuel shortages,” the statement reads.
The agency said the embassy in Port-au-Prince remains open to assist Canadians currently in the country.
On Wednesday, the government advised that Canadians should “consider leaving if you can do so safely” if their presence isn’t essential. Canadians are also advised not to travel to the country “due to severe fuel shortages, the risk of kidnapping and civil unrest.”
That rare warning was echoed by the U.S. State Department on Wednesday, which came as Haiti’s government and police are struggling to control gangs that have blocked fuel distribution terminals for several weeks.
“Widespread fuel shortages may limit essential services in an emergency, including access to banks, money transfers, urgent medical care, internet and telecommunications, and public and private transportation options,” the State Department warned.
Global News has asked Global Affairs Canada how many Canadians are believed to be in Haiti currently. The U.S. State Department told the Associated Press it does not provide statistics on Americans living abroad.
The warnings come as U.S. and Haitian authorities try to secure the safe release of 17 members of a missionary group from Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries who were kidnapped by the 400 Mawozo gang on Oct. 16. There are five children in the group of 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. Their Haitian driver also was abducted.
“We request continued prayer for the kidnappers, that God would soften their hearts,” the organization said in a statement on Wednesday. “As you pray, remember the millions of Haitians who are suffering through a time of serious upheaval and unrest.”
On Tuesday, top Haitian government officials acknowledged the widespread lack of fuel during a news conference and said they were working to resolve the situation, although they provided no details. Gas stations remained closed on Thursday.
Defense Minister Enold Joseph said the government is investigating why 30 fuel tanks sent to Haiti’s southern region went missing, adding that he has observed gasoline being sold on the black market.
The fuel shortage also has threatened Haiti’s water supply, which depends on generators, and hospitals in Port-au-Prince and beyond.
On Wednesday, Doctors Without Borders warned that the shortages have forced it to reduce medical care since last week, with staff treating only patients with life-threatening conditions. The aid group said that its hospital and emergency center will run out of fuel for generators in three weeks or less if new supplies don’t arrive.
“As tensions and armed conflict escalate in Haiti’s capital, shortages of fuel, public transportation and drinking water are putting medical facilities and patients at risk,” the aid group said. “Nearly all public and private health facilities in Port-au-Prince have stopped or limited admissions to only acute cases or closed their doors due to similar problems.”
Doctors Without Borders also said that the lack of fuel is preventing staff from reaching the hospital because of the scarcity of public transportation. It’s a problem seen elsewhere, with parents unable to send their children to school and some employees unable to go to work.
The situation also has led to a spike in food prices in a country of more than 11 million people where more than 60 per cent of the population makes less than USD$2 a day. Meanwhile, a gallon of gasoline, when available, currently costs USD$15.
–With files from the Associated Press