Nearly 800 kidnappings have been reported in Haiti so far this year, says a local group, as gangs expand their control amid political instability.
The Center for Human Rights Analysis and Research (CARDH) said 119 people were kidnapped in the first half of this month alone.
People from all walks of life, both local and foreign, have been targeted.
The most recent high-profile case involves 17 US and Canadian missionaries kidnapped last weekend.
The already precarious security situation in Haiti has deteriorated considerably since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July. Rival factions are fighting for control of the country in the face of a struggling police force.
“Citizens do not trust the Haitian national police and this poses a problem because we cannot have an efficient police force if the population does not cooperate,” Gedeon Jean, director of CARDH, told AFP news agency.
“According to our statistics, there are at least two policemen in every large armed group: some policemen are active in the gangs and others provide cover, allowing the gangs to operate, or share information with them.”
The CARDH said at least 782 kidnappings were reported this year as of Oct.16, compared to 796 cases in all of 2020. The actual numbers would likely be much higher, he said, as many people do not report kidnappings, fearing retaliation from part of the bands. .
Increased violence and a dire economic situation, exacerbated by several natural disasters in recent years, have led an increasing number of Haitians to seek opportunities in other countries.
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On Saturday, Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries missionaries were returning from a visit to an orphanage when their bus was hijacked by members of the 400 Mazowo gang in Ganthier, a city east of the capital, Port-au-Prince. .
Ganthier is located in the Croix-des-Bouquets area which is controlled by the gang. The kidnappers demand $ 1 million (£ 725,000) in ransom for each hostage.
All abductees are US citizens, except one who is a Canadian citizen. Among those abducted are five men, seven women and five children, the youngest of whom said he was two years old.
The seizure of vehicles and all their occupants for ransom is one of the main activities that the 400 Mazowo use to finance themselves. In April, the gang kidnapped a group of members of the Catholic clergy, who were subsequently released. It is unclear whether a ransom was paid.
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