The international medical charity Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) has announced it is temporarily suspending operations at a hospital in Haiti after a group of armed men forcibly removed a patient and threatened staff members.
In a statement on Friday, MSF said about 20 armed men stormed the hospital in Tabarre near the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, on Thursday night.
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The men took away a patient with gunshot wounds “who was still in an operating room”, MSF said, and they also “threatened to kill” staff members.
“We strongly condemn this incursion, which demonstrates once again the unprecedented level of violence currently raging in Port-au-Prince,” the group said. “All trauma and burn care activities at the Tabarre hospital are currently suspended due to this incident.”
Twenty armed men have violently entered our hospital in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, and forcibly removed a patient with gunshot wounds.
We strongly condemn this incursion. All parties to the conflict in Port-au-Prince must respect medical facilities…
— MSF International (@MSF) July 7, 2023
Haiti is struggling 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 Caribbean nation’s virtually non-existent government system has made stemming attacks even more difficult, and Haiti’s de facto leader, Prime Minister Ariel Henry, has faced a crisis of legitimacy as the political process remains in deadlock.
The gang violence has impeded access to healthcare facilities, forced the closure of schools and clinics, and worsened already dire food shortages by cutting residents of gang-controlled areas off from critical supplies.
And in March, MSF temporarily closed another hospital in the violence-plagued Port-au-Prince neighbourhood of Cite Soleil after it said “heavily armed rival groups” were engaged in violent battles “just metres” from the facility.
Last year, Henry appealed for an international armed force to be deployed to Haiti to restore order and quell the violence, but the effort has stalled because no country has agreed to lead such an operation.
On Thursday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres renewed calls for a multinational force to “restore security” to the country. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Guterres, saying the deployment effort was an “area of intense focus” for the United States.
Despite UN and US backing, 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.
The idea of sending a multinational force to Haiti has spurred protests, and some advocates have instead called on countries to provide more training and funding to the under-resourced Haitian National Police.
In the meantime, the US and its allies, most notably Canada, have issued a string of sanctions against Haitian officials and others accused of helping the gangs destabilise the country and engage in illicit activities, including drug trafficking.
The violence and insecurity has persisted, however, pushing many Haitians to try to flee the country.
“There is such contempt for human life among the conflicting parties, and such violence in Port-au-Prince, that even the vulnerable, sick and wounded are not spared,” Mahaman Bachard Iro, MSF’s head of programmes in Haiti, said in Friday’s statement.
“How are we supposed to be able to continue providing care in this environment?”