A group of Christian missionaries and their family members were kidnapped on Saturday by gang members in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince.
The missionaries were abducted from a bus headed to the airport to drop off some members of the group before continuing to another destination in Haiti, a report by the New York Times stated, citing security officials from the crisis-engulfed Caribbean nation.
The missionaries — which include 16 Americans, a Canadian citizen and several children — were taken in the area of La Tremblay by what was believed to be members of the 400 Mawozo gang, the Miami Herald reported.
A person familiar with the situation claims one of the abducted Americans posted a cry for help in a WhatsApp group as the kidnapping was occurring.
‘Please pray for us!! We are being held hostage, they kidnapped our driver. Pray pray pray. We don’t know where they are taking us,’ the abductee said.
The US government has been made aware of the kidnapping reports and officials at the American embassy are reportedly looking into the situation.
Meanwhile, thousands of Haitian migrants have fled the country, which is now ruled by gangs, and come to the US in the last month.
As many as 17 Christian Missionaries from the United States have been kidnapped by a gang on Saturday in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Pictured, soldiers guard the Public Prosecutor’s office in Port-au-Prince (file photo)
Haitian security officials say the group, including children, were kidnapped as they were leaving an orphanage. There could be as many as 100 gangs in Port-au-Prince; no one has an exact count and allegiances often are violently fluid (file photo)
The missionaries were on their way home from building an orphanage in the Croix des Bouquets area when they were abducted in La Tremblay.
Pierre Espérance, director of Haiti’s National Human Rights Defense Network, told the Washington Post he had been informed of the kidnapping on Saturday by Haitian officials.
A spokesperson with the US Department of State told DailyMail.com the government is aware of the reports on the kidnapping.
‘The welfare and safety of US citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State,’ the spokesperson said, declining further comment.
Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, whose staff members returned to the organization’s Haitian base in 2020 after bring gone for nearly nine months amid political unrest, sent a voice message identified as a ‘prayer alert’ to various religious missions.
‘This is a special prayer alert. Pray that the gang members would come to repentance,’ the voice on the recording said.
The prayer message also states that the mission’s field director is working with the US Embassy, and that the field director’s family and one other unidentified man stayed at the ministry’s base while everyone else visiting the orphanage was abducted.
‘The mission field director and the American embassy are working to see what can be done,’ the message said. ‘Pray that the gang members will come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.’
It is unclear if the abductees were affiliated with Christian Aid Ministries.
Christian Aid Ministries did not immediately respond to DailyMail.com’s request for comment. The US Embassy in Haiti did not respond either.
Martine Moise, the widow of slain President Jovenel Moise, center, arrives to the courthouse to give testimony in the ongoing investigation into the assassination of her husband in Port-au-Prince, which happened in July
A gang member in Haiti pictures earlier this year. There has been a spike in kidnappings with the country encountering a huge amount of instability following the assassination of its president and and an earthquake earlier this year
Haiti is once again struggling with a spike in gang-related kidnappings that had diminished after President Jovenel Moïse was fatally shot at his private residence on July 7, and following a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck southwest Haiti in August and killed more than 2,200 people.
The country, which has the highest per-capita kidnapping rate worldwide, has seen kidnappings spike sixfold over the same period last year.
The kidnappers have abducted various individuals including doctors heading to work, preachers delivering sermons, busloads of people in transit, police officers on patrol and more.
Last month, a deacon was killed in front of a church in the capital of Port-au-Prince and his wife kidnapped, one of dozens of people who have been abducted in recent months.
At least 328 kidnapping victims were reported to Haiti’s National Police in the first eight months of 2021, compared with a total of 234 for all of 2020, according to a report issued last month the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti known as BINUH.
Abductions dropped briefly after Moïse’s assassination, but surged again to 73 in August and to 117 in September.
This year’s surge has been so large that Port-au-Prince is now posting more kidnappings in absolute terms than vastly larger Bogotá, Mexico City and São Paulo combined.
Ronise Lindor does the laundry next to a street flooded with garbage in the Portail neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, seen earlier this month
A group of 17 U.S. missionaries including children was kidnapped by a gang in the the densely populated Jalousie neighborhood of Port-au-Prince (pictured on Sept. 28)
Gangs — which are estimated to control roughly half of Port-au-Prince — have demanded ransoms ranging from thousands of dollars to more than $1 million, according to authorities.
They have been accused of kidnapping schoolchildren, doctors, police officers, busloads of passengers and others as they grow more powerful.
The gang allegedly responsible for the abduction of the 17 missionaries taken Saturday, 400 Mawozo, is known for attacking vehicles.
‘This is the type of kidnapping that 400 Mawozo do; we call it a collective kidnapping where they kidnap any entire bus or car,’ Gedeon Jean, who runs the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights in Port-au-Prince, told the Miami Herald.
Jean said the notorious gang is responsible for approximately 80 percent of the kidnappings in Haiti.
In fact, in April, the group abducted nine Catholic clergy — including five priests, two nuns and three relatives of a priest — in Port-au-Prince.
The abduction prompted a three-day shutdown by Roman Catholic institutions, schools and universities to protest the situation and demand for the eventual release of the group.
‘400 Mawozo is kidnapping people every which way; in the Central Plateau, the North, it’s the same thing. We are asking all 10 [regional] departments to bring everything in the country to a standstill so that the leaders will take their responsibility,’ echoed Mehu Changeux, President of the National Association of Owners and Drivers of Haiti. ‘What’s happening here concerns the whole society.’
‘Political turmoil, the surge in gang violence, deteriorating socioeconomic conditions – including food insecurity and malnutrition – all contribute to the worsening of the humanitarian situation,’ BINUH said in its report. ‘An overstretched and under-resourced police force alone cannot address the security ills of Haiti.’
On Friday, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to extend the U.N. political mission in Haiti.
The kidnapping of the missionaries comes just days after high-level U.S. officials visited Haiti and promised more resources for Haiti’s National Police, including another $15 million to help reduce gang violence, which this year has displaced thousands of Haitians who now live in temporary shelters in increasingly unhygienic conditions.
Among those who met with Haiti’s police chief was Uzra Zeya, U.S. under secretary of state for civilian security, democracy, and human rights.
‘Dismantling violent gangs is vital to Haitian stability and citizen security,’ she recently tweeted.
Migrants, most from Haiti, depart a base camp towards the jungle in the infamous Darien Gap while on their journey towards the United States on October 7. The number of Haitian migrants heading to the US has skyrocketed in recent weeks
Mostly Haitian migrants break camp at sunrise on October 7 before trekking through the 66-mile stretch of undeveloped, unpoliced rainforest
Many of the Haitians now embarking on the dangerous journey to the United States fled their country for South America in 2010, and are now are leaving for the US through towns like Acandi in Colombia and trekking across the Darien Gap. The COVID-19 pandemic has been blamed for upending much of South and Central America’s economy, forcing people already in a precarious position into desperation
Meanwhile, a record-shattering number of Haitian migrants have come to the US in the last month, and the trend doesn’t appear to be stopping as more people continue to pour into the Colombian town of Necocli, a popular spot for smugglers to shepherd people through the perilous Darien Gap.
The Darien Gap is a 66-mile stretch of rainforest between North and South America. Its dangerous terrain is part of the reason it’s been left undeveloped and why it poses such a great risk to the people crossing it now.
More than 70,000 migrants have traveled through the Darien Gap this year, Panamanian authorities have said.
Most of the migrants in recent months have been Haitians, many of whom had been living in Chile and Brazil since the 2010 Haitian earthquake.
Nearly 28,000 Haitian migrants were encountered by Border Patrol agents along the US-Mexico border in Fiscal Year 2021, which ended September 30.
In 2020, the number was 4,395.
Last month around 15,000 mostly Haitian migrants camped near a bridge in Del Rio, Texas.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said at the time, ‘It is unprecedented for us to see that number of people arrive in one discrete point along the border in such a compacted period of time.’
Images of the cramped, squalid tent city they were living in prompted a humanitarian outcry against the Biden administration.
Last week the Washington Examiner reported that border officials are bracing for an incoming surge of as many as 60,000 Haitian migrants.
Haitians are fleeing their homeland as violence continues to spike across the country.