As gunshots roared through his destitute neighborhood in the Haitian capital, Jackson held out for more than a week, praying for help to resolve the violent turf war between rival gangs.
“The bursts of gunshots flew nonstop for eight days, but we assumed the cops would interfere,” he claimed.
However, the cops never arrived. So, like hundreds of others, Jackson, 29, departed his house with nothing but the clothing he was wearing.
Since the all-out battle began on April 24, clashes between rival gangs in the impoverished slums of northern Port-au-Prince have claimed the lives of at least 75 people, including women and children, according to the United Nations.
The United Nations said it was “extremely disturbed” by the city’s “rapid deterioration of security.”
“According to multiple sources, at least 75 people, including women and children, have been killed and 68 others injured,” the UN statement said.
At least 9,000 inhabitants of the conflict-torn northern suburbs have been forced to evacuate their homes and seek refuge with relatives or in makeshift shelters like churches and schools, according to the report.
Jackson resisted until Sunday. When the battle came straight to his door, he was just getting home from church.
“I didn’t know that the members of the ‘400 mawozo’ gang had managed to cross the bridge” next to his home, Jackson said, referring to the most feared of all the gangs.
“Suddenly I heard neighbors yelling ‘They’re at Shada crossroads’, which meant they were 30, 40 meters from me. I had my identity card, my driver’s license, and my insurance card on me. I took my passport and ran out,” he said.
As he passed a nearby gas station, he saw gang members accusing the motorcycle taxi drivers who were parked thereof being lookouts for a rival gang. “So they shot them,” Jackson said.
Armed gangs have ran amok in Port-au-poorest Prince’s neighborhoods for decades, but in recent years, they have dramatically expanded their control over the Haitian city and the country as a whole, driving up murders and kidnappings.
The UN has condemned the gangs’ “severe violence,” citing “acts of sexual assault, including gang rape of children as young as ten years old, and terrorization and intimidation of local communities residing in regions controlled by rival gangs,” according to local sources.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has issued a warning about the gangs’ impact on children’s schooling.
“In Haiti, 500,000 children have lost access to education due to gang-related violence,” it said on Friday. “Nearly 1,700 schools are currently closed in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince.”
“No child can go to school while bullets are flying in the air, it’s dangerous and it shouldn’t be like this,” said Bruno Maes, the UNICEF representative to Haiti.
The United Nations mission in Haiti is especially concerned about minors being recruited into violent gangs.
The Haitian government has yet to respond to the new round of violence that has engulfed the capital, denying any secure road access to the rest of the country.
The powerful “400 Mawozo” gang kidnapped 17 North American missionaries and their relatives, including five children, in October.
The district where the violence has been concentrated is strategically important since it has the country’s only road access to the north as well as the only road connection between Haiti’s capital and the Dominican Republic.
Authorities have also lost control of the only route leading south from Port-au-Prince since June. The highway is totally under the grip of armed criminals from Martissant’s slums for a period of two kilometers (1.2 miles).
Doctors Without Borders, an international medical NGO, was forced to close a hospital in Martissant after 15 years due to gang violence.