Americans looking to escape violence in Haiti fear there is no way out

Some Americans who are trying to flee the escalating violence in Haiti say that they find themselves stuck in the country.
Posted at 5:00 PM, Mar 13, 2024

As the violence in Haiti continues with no end in sight, the U.S. State Department asked U.S. Southern Command to deploy a Marine fleet anti-terrorism security team — known as a FAST team — to the U.S. embassy in Haiti. The U.S. has already evacuated nonessential personnel from the embassy there.

As armed gangs roam the streets of the capital of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's main international airport remains closed. That's left American missionary Jill Dolan and her family hiding in a guest house near the airport.

"We hear a lot of gunfire, generally at night. We hear a lot," she said. "Yesterday, there was a whole bunch of it, though, during the day. So, you just never know."

Dolan runs the nonprofit Love a Neighbor, that operates an orphanage in rural Haiti. 

One of Dolan's daughters plans to get married this month in Florida, and the rest of her family booked flights to go back to the U.S. weeks before the violence erupted. However, Dolan said they never got to use the tickets because airlines suspended flights in and out of the country earlier this month.

"We've had many tickets and they just keep getting canceled. Now, you can't even book a flight," Dolan said. "So, we're just kind of waiting. A lot of people tell us to get to the D.R.(Dominican Republic) border, and we can try to go to the D.R., but that's not a super safe route for us."

However, getting to the border would require a risky hourslong drive on backroads, which are riddled with gang checkpoints.

"I've been in contact with some guy at the embassy, and he has just basically said 'Be safe,' which doesn't really do a lot of help. It doesn't really encourage me at all," Dolan said. "So, we're just really hoping and praying that they're going to be able to somehow arrange for some flights to go out with some people that are just stuck here."

Eddy Acevedo is chief of staff at The Wilson Center, a research think tank specializing in international affairs in Washington, D.C. 

"The clock ticks and the security situation in the country continues to get worse," he said.

While U.S. Southern Command sent Marines to secure the embassy, Acevedo said not to expect much else for now.

"As we've seen in the last few days, we have sent in Marines to help on the airlift of some embassy personnel, as well as to help fortify the embassy and our staff," Acevedo said. "So, right now, it's a very limited security situation from the U.S. posture."

That leaves few options for Americans like Jill Dolan, who said she is holding on to hope that Haiti's people will see brighter days.

"Ninety percent of the people in Haiti are kind, loving, precious people. The children are sweet and precious and so innocent," Dolan said. "And so, for these gangs and the prime minister and all these people in political power, it's just sad to me that they're doing what they're doing."

How many Americans remain in Haiti is not clear. When asked on Tuesday, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said that they "did not have a number."

In the meantime, there are concerns that the violence in Haiti could lead to an exodus of migrants trying to get to the U.S. On Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that he will be deploying state resources to patrol the southern coast of Florida.

Haiti's embattled Prime Minister Ariel Henry says he will resign
Haiti's Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

Haiti's embattled Prime Minister Ariel Henry says he will resign

Henry says he will officially leave office once a transitional presidential council is established and a new interim prime minister is appointed.