Haitians in Winnipeg concerned as unrest spirals out of control in Haiti

Deep political polarization in Haiti is raising concerns among Haitians in Winnipeg.

Those who left the Caribbean island country are worried about their family back home and have been trying to get them out and into Canada, with no luck.

Arisnel Mesidor is an immigration consultant and originally came to Canada as an international student 20 years ago.

He said the conflict in his home country comes as a shock.

“Things have been happening in Haiti for a long time. But there were certain things we have not seen,” said Mesidor.

Since early February, violent gangs have been running rampant in and around Haiti’s capital city Port-au-Prince.

“(The) unthinkable has happened. Like breaking into the prisons to let prisoners and criminals out in the street at large.”

The country’s prime minister pointed to the chaos as the reason for his resignation.

“It’s approaching the stage of total ungovernability,” said Jack Cunningham, the program coordinator of the Bill Graham Centre in Toronto. “There’s essentially no one in control.”

Mesidor said the mayhem is making it even more difficult for Haitian citizens to come to countries like Canada.

One of the hurdles is the paperwork that requires people to travel to the capital to be vetted and undergo medical examinations.

“Gangs are all over the country. So whenever you’re going somewhere, you don’t know how many times you will be stopped and asked to pay money,” said Mesidor. “You don’t even know if you will make it alive.”

He is calling for better systems to be put in place to help protect and keep people, including his own family, safe.

“There should be another way of vetting people…rather than asking them to go to Port-au-Prince when we know they can’t.”

Cunningham agrees a similar approach needs to be taken to keep humanitarian aid in the right hands.

“In addition to people to actually deliver the aid, we’d need people who could protect them and who ensure a certain of security,” said Cunningham.

Mesidor said in the end he hopes a solution is figured out soon.

“I refuse to believe that this little enigma in the Caribbean cannot be solved,” he said.

Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations went to an emergency meeting in Jamaica to discuss the crisis, but Cunningham said there isn’t much Canada can do, especially on the political front. He noted the federal government’s official position has always been that any action must be led by Haitians themselves.

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