Looking for relief
IN THE NEWS | Could another United Nations peacekeeping mission be on Haiti’s horizon?
Full access isn’t far.
We can’t release more of our sound journalism without a subscription, but we can make it easy for you to come aboard.
Get started for as low as $3.99 per month.
Current WORLD subscribers can log in to access content. Just go to "SIGN IN" at the top right.LET'S GO
Already a member? Sign in.
On July 27, surgeon David Vanderpool woke before dawn. Making as little noise as possible, he climbed into a car with an armed guard and, with a second vehicle following for safety, drove 20 miles on bumpy roads from a ministry base in Thomazeau, Haiti, to a nearby airport. There, a small cargo plane was waiting to fly him home to the United States.
In Haiti today, these security measures are crucial—including the cargo plane, which Vanderpool said allows him to pass surreptitiously through a less visible area of the commercial airport. Even with its long history of violence and instability, Haiti may have reached a new low: In April alone, more than 600 people were killed amid gang violence, according to the United Nations. Around 300 women and children were kidnapped in the first half of this year.
When Vanderpool landed in the United States, he heard the news that aid worker Alix Dorsainvil and her young daughter had been kidnapped from a medical clinic in Port-au-Prince by an armed gang that same day. The Christian nonprofit El Roi Haiti reported on Aug. 9 that the American nurse and her daughter had been freed after nearly two weeks in captivity.
The U.S. State Department has classified Haiti as a “level 4 country,” advising U.S. citizens not to visit under any circumstances. With the United Nations considering an international peacekeeping mission, help for Haiti may finally be on the way. Average Haitians want relief from gang violence, but some fear the peacekeeping effort may be too little too late.
Vanderpool, founder of the Christian aid ministry LiveBeyond, understands firsthand the terror Haitians experience. In 2015, while living in Haiti, his wife escaped a failed kidnapping attempt. In 2018, two of LiveBeyond’s team members, citizens of India, were kidnapped and tortured. Vanderpool negotiated their release with gang leaders after four days (without paying a ransom, he said).
He moved his family out of Haiti in 2019, but at least once a quarter Vanderpool still tries to visit LiveBeyond’s base in Thomazeau, run by local Haitian personnel, to provide moral support. His visits are never announced in advance: “It’s very hush-hush. If somebody puts it on social media, that could be the death knell for me.”
The UN ended a previous peacekeeping mission in Haiti in 2019 even as the country was collapsing. The 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse significantly exacerbated the problems. Gangs have outmatched police and are kidnapping rich and poor alike for ransom. They are also accessing higher grade weapons, including belt-fed machine guns.
Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry has appealed for international intervention for months. In late July, Kenya’s Foreign Ministry announced the country’s willingness to lead an international police force to Haiti. Kenya offered to send 1,000 police officers to “help train and assist Haitian police [to] restore normalcy in the country.” U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield quickly announced the United States would introduce a resolution authorizing the force, but not everyone is in favor.
Brian Concannon, executive director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, a human-rights advocacy group, opposes the mission in its current form. Concannon says during the previous mission, from 2004 to 2019, UN peacekeepers used excessive force that killed civilians, engaged in sexual assaults and exploitation, and sparked a cholera outbreak that killed around 10,000 Haitians. Concannon fears such abuses may be repeated.
He argues a UN force would prop up the current government, which he said was installed via corrupt elections and cooperates with the gangs. “As long as you’re having police coming in to protect a repressive government, you’re going to have more repression.”
Boby Sander, who lives in Port-au-Prince and serves as the Haiti country director for the Christian aid organization Food for the Hungry, is less concerned about legitimate government. His biggest fear is whether Kenyan police officers can match the firepower of Haitian gangs. He’d like to see a strong military intervention—what he called “boots on the ground.”
Sander said that of his local staff of around 60 people, seven have left for America. He understands why they don’t want to stay in Haiti. “People need something to give them hope.”
Meanwhile, Haitians who cannot leave are desperate for help against the armed criminals. Vanderpool said LiveBeyond polled 1,000 people in its area and 98 percent favored a U.S. military intervention.
Near Thomazeau, expectant mothers are too afraid of gangs to travel to LiveBeyond’s hospital in the evenings to give birth. The typical delivery rate of five to six babies each day during the hospital’s night shift has dropped to about one per week. “That means they’re delivering at home,” said Vanderpool. “And that means a lot of babies are dying. It means a lot of the mothers are dying.”