315 children, adults shelter in school to escape Haiti’s gang war

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – Hundreds of children and adults sheltered at a high school in the Haitian capital on Saturday after fleeing gunfire in a neighborhood that has been at war with two rival gangs in recent weeks. Dozens of people were killed and houses destroyed in the fighting.

Francisco Cerifan, general coordinator of the religious community group Caseito, said 315 people had taken refuge at the Saint Louis de Gonzaga school in the Delmas district, a neighborhood in the violence-hit Site Soleil.

Classes are out for summer vacation, and classrooms at the high school have been turned into dormitories, where some teenagers, babies and toddlers sleep on small mattresses provided by a nonprofit group. Others must sleep on the floor without mattresses.

Youngsters chatted and joked in the school yard on Saturdays, while others played football and basketball or jumped rope.

Serafin said many of the children who took shelter at the school came without their parents. Some young people lined up to give information about fathers and mothers, some who are missing and others who were prevented from leaving Cite Soleil by gangs.

“We need a lot of help,” said Jean Michelet, a 16-year-old who said he was injured the day the gang fight broke out in early July.

He said that the day the war started, I was at home. There was a lot of shooting. A bullet went through the roof and hit me in the head.

He said that a nun took him to the hospital to treat the injury.

Many people were killed during the gun battles, Michelet said. “The situation is really bad,” he said.

A year after the unsolved assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, gang violence in Haiti has worsened and many have sought to flee a country that appears to be economically and socially free. Efforts to form a coalition government have stalled and efforts to hold general elections have stalled.

A week ago, the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs reported that 99 people had been reported killed in fighting in Site Soleil so far.

United Nations humanitarian agencies have said that it is too dangerous for them to deliver aid to people trapped in the neighborhood.

UN Human Rights Council spokesman Jeremy Lawrence said most of the victims were “not directly involved in gangs” but were targeted.

Some groups even deny access to drinking water and food in order to control the population, increasing malnutrition, UN agencies said.