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A man and child took cover from gunfire near the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, March 21.
A man and child took cover from gunfire near the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, March 21.
Photo Credit: Ralph Tedy Erol | Reuters

Catholic leaders express anguish over Haiti’s ‘dizzying chaos,’ humanitarian disaster

SÃO PAULO — The April 1 attack on a Spiritan seminary in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, was the most recent one in a series of incidents involving Catholic Church targets, amid the worst violence crisis in Haiti in several years.

A group of armed criminals invaded the Petit Séminaire Collège Saint Martial, a minor seminary of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, in the afternoon and began to set fire to the cars parked in the yard. The four priests who were present in the venue managed to run and hide in a nearby cathedral, along with four employees.

The invaders vandalized several rooms of the seminary, including the administrative offices and the residential area. Electronic devices were stolen or damaged.

The Haitian Conference of Religious issued a statement strongly denouncing “the attacks on Church institutions, which are being looted and desecrated by heavily armed individuals who attack humble people that do nothing else but serve the entire population, especially the poorest.”

The conference expressed “deep pain” upon the “dizzying situation of chaos in which our beautiful people live today,” adding that it is “with indignation that we note how sons and daughters of the country attack private and state property without scruple and endanger the lives of others who seem to have no value in their eyes.”

The chronic lack of basic services and public security has been leading more and more Haitians to leave the country.

The crisis in the Caribbean nation, one of the poorest countries in the world, reached its apex on March 11, when Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced his resignation, after at least one week of coordinated attacks on governmental targets waged by criminal organizations.

Haitians have been massively migrating to Latin American countries and the United States since the earthquake that devastated the nation in 2010. The economic and social crisis that followed the catastrophe led more and more people to look for work in countries such as Brazil, Chile and the U.S.

Since 2021, the flux has only increased. At least 158,000 encounters with Haitian nationals have been registered by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the Mexican border since December 2022. Additional immigrants got into the country by sea, arriving in Puerto Rico and Florida.

President Joe Biden’s administration has expanded the Temporary Protection Status program for Haitian immigrants, which was first established by the U.S. in 2010. In 2023, 121,000 Haitians were approved for TPS. But the demand is much higher, and many immigrants try to enter the country informally. Activists have been demanding the government suspend deportations to Haiti during the current crisis.

“The level of suffering in Haiti for many years has been alarming. The way the situation has evolved and continues to evolve can be described as the most terrible crisis in the entire American continent,” Scalabrinian Father Agler Cherizier said.

Although the neighboring Dominican Republic has been taking several actions to curtail the Haitian immigration, including the building of a 250-mile wall on the border, the influx of immigrants continues.

Many Haitians have been following other routes. Thousands have been working in South American nations over the past few years, with some having the goal of saving money and heading to North America.

“The Haitian population suffers discrimination and racism in all countries. Their experiences of rejection have been profound in Chile, for example. And along the route (to the U.S.) they are victims of exploitation,” Roy Arias, the coordinator of borders at the Jesuit Migrants Service in Costa Rica, said.

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