US issues Haiti travel alert

The United States Department of State has issued a new travel warning for Haiti, urging citizens against non-essential travel.

The notice replaces the travel warning dated Jun. 24, 2010, “to reflect continued high crime, the cholera outbreak, frequent disturbances in Port-au-Prince and in provincial cities, and limited police protection and access to medical care,” said the Dec. 9 statement.

“The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Haiti. The level of violent crime in Port-au-Prince, including murder and kidnapping, remains high, and Haitian authorities have limited capacity to deter or investigate such acts or prosecute perpetrators,” the statement added.

“While most kidnappings are financially motivated, some kidnapping victims have been physically abused, sexually assaulted, shot and even killed. No one is immune from kidnapping, regardless of one’s occupation, nationality, race, gender, or age,” the statement continued.

The State Department said in a number of cases this year, travelers arriving in Port-au-Prince on flights from the United States were attacked and robbed a short while after departing the airport. It said at least two U.S. citizens were shot and killed in such incidents.

“Police believe criminals may be targeting travelers arriving on flights from the United States, following them, and attacking them once they are out of the area. Travelers are advised to use extra caution in arranging transportation from the airport,” the statement said.

It noted that beginning in October, protests, demonstrations, and violent disruptions have occurred regularly in downtown Port-au-Prince, and that, in November, violent demonstrations occurred for several days in and around Cap Haitien,” making travel in and out of the area very hazardous”.

Following the first round of elections in late November, the State Department also noted that demonstrations occurred in numerous parts of Port-au-Prince and in cities throughout the country.

During demonstrations protestors have damaged vehicles, thrown rocks, and burned tires to block traffic, it said.

“Given the nature, intensity, and unpredictability of these disturbances, U.S. citizens are urged to exercise special caution and avoid areas where demonstrations are occurring or crowds are forming and to maintain a low profile,” the statement said.

“U.S. citizens in Haiti should be extremely vigilant with regard to their personal security, stay current on media coverage of local events, and be aware of their surroundings at all times,” it warned.

The State Department said while the Haitian National Police (HNP), with assistance from U.N. Police (UN Pol), are responsible for keeping peace in Haiti and rendering assistance during times of civil unrest, given the size and frequency of violent protests, the ability of HNP and U.N. Pol to come to the aid of U.S. citizens in distress during disturbances is “limited.”

“While the U.S. Embassy will make every effort to coordinate HNP and U.N. Pol assistance, U.S. citizens in Haiti should have well-prepared security plans, including a location to shelter-in-place with provisions and a departure strategy,” the statement said.

“The U.S. Embassy does not have the capacity or infrastructure to evacuate U.S. citizens and relies on the Haitian National Police to provide assistance,” it added, stating that travel within Haiti is “hazardous.”

“Even U.S. Embassy personnel are under an Embassy-imposed curfew and must remain home or in U.S. government facilities during the curfew,” it cautioned.

Deportations

Meanwhile, U.S. immigration authorities said last week it will resume deporting some Haitians back to the struggling Caribbean country, according to the Associated Press.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez said Friday that the U.S. expects to begin flying deportees with criminal records back to Haiti in January in coordination with Haiti’s government.

Gonzalez says ICE is must deport people with criminal records or release them “if their repatriation is not reasonably foreseeable.”

The U.S. temporarily stopped deporting Haitians after the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Advocates and immigration attorneys say conditions in Haiti have not improved enough for deportations to resume. A cholera outbreak began in October, and according to the Associated Press, the State Department is concerned about political unrest in the copuntry.

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