US religious group says 17 missionaries kidnapped in Haiti

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A group of 17 American missionaries, including children, were abducted by a gang in Haiti on Saturday, according to a voicemail message sent to various religious missions by an organization with direct knowledge of the incident. .

The missionaries were returning home after building an orphanage, according to a message from Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries.

“This is a special prayer alert,” the one-minute message read. “Pray for gang members to repent.”

The message states that the field director of the mission works with the US Embassy and that the family of the field director and another unidentified man stayed at the ministry base while everyone else visited the orphanage. .

No other details were immediately available.

A US government spokesperson said they are aware of the reports of the abduction.

“The well-being and safety of American citizens abroad is one of the State Department’s highest priorities,” the spokesperson said, declining further comment.

Haiti is again grappling with a spike in gang-related kidnappings that had declined after President Jovenel Moïse was shot and killed in his private residence on July 7 and following a magnitude 7 earthquake. .2 that hit southwestern Haiti in August and killed more than 2,200 people. .

The gangs demanded ransoms ranging from a few hundred dollars to more than $1 million, authorities said.

Last month, a deacon was killed outside a church in the capital Port-au-Prince and his wife abducted, one of dozens who have been abducted in recent months.

At least 328 kidnapping victims were reported to the Haiti National Police in the first eight months of 2021, compared to a total of 234 for all of 2020, according to a report released last month by the Integrated Bureau of United Nations in Haiti known as BINUH.

The gangs have been accused of kidnapping schoolchildren, doctors, policemen, busloads of passengers and others as they grew in power. In April, a gang abducted five priests and two nuns, a move that sparked a protest similar to the one held on Monday to denounce the lack of security in the impoverished country.

“Political unrest, rising gang violence, deteriorating socio-economic conditions – including food insecurity and malnutrition – all contribute to the worsening humanitarian situation,” BINUH said in its report. . “An overstretched and underfunded police force alone cannot solve Haiti’s security problems.”

On Friday, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to extend the UN political mission in Haiti.

The kidnapping of the missionaries comes just days after senior US officials visited Haiti and pledged more resources to the Haitian National Police, including an additional $15 million to help curb gang violence, which this year has displaced thousands of Haitians who now live in increasingly unsanitary temporary shelters.

Among those who met with Haiti’s police chief was Uzra Zeya, US Under Secretary of State for Civil Security, Democracy and Human Rights.

“Dismantling violent gangs is vital for Haitian stability and citizen security,” she tweeted recently.