One of the last international groups providing healthcare in capital says it can’t work if ‘threatened by violence’.
The international medical charity Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) is indefinitely suspending work at an emergency medical centre in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, after an armed group pulled a critically ill patient from an ambulance and shot him dead in the street.
“We need a minimum of safety to carry out our medical mission. We can’t work if our medical mission is threatened by violence,” Benoit Vasseur, MSF’s head of mission in Haiti, said in a statement on Friday.
MSF is one of the few remaining international organisations delivering medical care in the capital, which is largely controlled by powerful gangs that have forced nearly 200,000 people from their homes, with many reporting houses burned down, arbitrary murders, kidnappings and gang rapes.
The attack took place on Tuesday when an MSF ambulance convoy was leaving the medical centre in the area of Turgeau, in central Port-au-Prince, for patient transfers.
“They beat on the hood of the ambulance and fired shots in the air. They looked inside the first ambulance and ordered the second ambulance to return to the Emergency Centre. They took the patient out of the first ambulance by force. They then beat him and shot him several times. When he was dead, they fled the scene,” MSF said in its statement.
The centre treats 80 to 100 patients per day.
A string of attacks on patients is threatening our ability to provide care in Port-au-Prince, #Haiti. The latest attack, in which a patient was pulled from an ambulance and killed, has led us to indefinitely suspend activities in Turgeau emergency centre.https://t.co/uopVljxhwW
— MSF International (@MSF) December 15, 2023
“We can’t accept that our ambulances are attacked, and our patients are beaten and killed,” said Vasseur.
“We can see the Haitians are desperate and furious. They are subjected to terrible cruelties on a daily basis,” Vasseur added. “We are direct witnesses of it: rape, torture, murder attempts. All our medical services are here to provide care to people in the midst of this violence.”
Escalating gang violence
Haiti has been grappling with high levels of gang violence, which worsened in the power vacuum caused by the assassination of President Jovenel Moise on July 7, 2021.
The violence has impeded access to healthcare facilities, forced the closure of schools and clinics, and worsened already dire food shortages by cutting residents in gang-controlled areas off from critical supplies.
The United Nations estimates that 5.2 million people, nearly half the population, currently require humanitarian assistance. Gang violence has displaced about 200,000 residents and killed 3,000 people this year alone, with 1,500 more kidnapped for ransom.
In July, MSF temporarily closed another hospital in Tabarre, near Port-au-Prince, after an armed attack that threatened the group’s staff and saw the forcible removal of a patient from the facility.
Another MSF hospital in the violence-plagued Port-au-Prince neighbourhood of Cite Soleil was temporarily closed in March after it said “heavily armed rival groups” were engaged in violent battles “just metres” from the facility.
In October, the United Nations Security Council gave the go-ahead for a Kenya-led mission to help the overwhelmed Haitian police.
But many Haitians – including leading rights groups in the country – have cautioned against sending foreign forces into a country with a long and painful history of foreign interference.