Kidnapping in Haiti raises safety concerns for other church workers

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A man in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, wears a shirt that reads “This is not a kidnapper, this is not a thief” on October 17, 2021, to protest an arrest made last week. (CNS Photo / Ralph Tedy Erol, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – While Christian missionaries and their family members, some as young as 8 months old, were still held for ransom in Haiti by a gang known for their mass kidnappings, other charities and religious groups have examined how to stay safe while providing humanitarian relief. aid.

Seventeen members of Christian Aid Ministries, based in Millersburg, Ohio, were kidnapped on October 16. The 400 Mawozo, which is believed to be in control of Croix-des-Bouquets and the surrounding area where the kidnappings took place, has claimed credit for the kidnapping and is demanding a ransom of $ 17 million – $ 1 million per person.

The group from Ohio was caught after their visit to an orphanage in Croix-des-Bouquets, a northeast suburb of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

In April, five priests and two nuns were kidnapped in the same area and released after 20 days of ransom payments. Christian Aid Ministries is connected to Amish and Mennonite groups in the United States.

“This is the worst Haiti has been in a long time,” Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski told The Tablet, the diocese of Brooklyn, New York newspaper. “It’s hard to see when it turns. You think once it hits bottom it starts going up, but every time we think it’s bottoming out we find out that the bottom is even deeper.

AVSI, a nonprofit humanitarian aid and development organization based in Milan, Italy, which promotes its mission as being based on Catholic social education, has had around 300 people in Haiti to meet basic needs in food and shelter after the August 14 earthquake. and also to help victims of urban violence.

A sign in Millersburg, Ohio marks the entrance to Christian Aid Ministries headquarters on October 17, 2021. Sixteen Americans and one Canadian from the group were kidnapped in Haiti on October 16. (CNS Photo / Aaron Josefczyk, Reuters)

Fiammetta Cappellini, the organization’s representative in Haiti, told Catholic News Service that the precautions they take for their people range “from reducing travel to stopping all travel during sensitive time slots.”

“We have an 8pm curfew because most of the kidnappings took place a few months after dark. We can also limit travel in certain areas of the city which are particularly exposed, ”she said.

But Cappellini admitted: “You cannot reduce the risk of kidnappings to zero. The phenomenon is so vast and affects such diverse segments of the population. For example, there have been kidnappings of women in the market with minimal sources of income so that it could affect anyone. “

“What is certain is that statistically, the kidnappings mainly target the more affluent population and are concentrated in certain areas at crucial time slots,” she said. “It doesn’t just happen on the spot, but it’s more common. “

The work itself, she said, “explicitly provides the best protection for this phenomenon as we build great relationships with the community. If we build the best possible relationships, our presence will be seen as an added value. It becomes a relationship in which the community understands our work, respects us and, in a way, protects us.

On the October 16 kidnappings, Cappellini called them “so upsetting because I’m sure these missionaries certainly have a great relationship with the community, so when the gangs kidnap those who help their communities it unsettles us and all of us. worried a lot. “

If kidnappings became more frequent, she said she expected her organization to be forced to suspend operations in Haiti.

In a statement released to media on Oct. 19, Christian Aid Ministries said those abducted included five men and seven women aged 18 to 48 and five children aged 8 months, 3, 6, 13 and 15.

A White House spokeswoman said on October 18 that the FBI was working with the U.S. diplomatic team in Haiti to locate the mission group and have it released.

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Copyright © 2021 Catholic News Service / United States Conference of Catholic Bishops


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