Haitians shelter in sports center as fresh attacks displace nearly 9,000

FILE PHOTO: People fleeing from gang violence, in Port-au-Prince

By Jean Loobentz Cesar

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Hundreds of people are crammed into small white tents in the courtyard of a sports center in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, drying clothes on the access ramps and washing their children in small, plastic tubs.

Some 8,730 people have been displaced around the heavily populated neighborhood of Carrefour-Feuilles, according to U.N. estimates on Saturday, more than half due to a fresh outbreak of violence two days earlier.

Residents began moving out of the area en masse from Aug. 12, when armed gangs mounted their attacks on the area.

Under-resourced police have struggled to fight off the armed groups which now control large parts of the capital, their turf wars driving a devastating humanitarian crisis that has displaced around 200,000 nationwide.

Ariel Henry, Haiti's unelected prime minister, called for urgent international security assistance last October.

Though countries were wary of backing Henry and repeating the serious abuses committed by past interventions, Kenyan delegates met with Henry and top police chiefs this week to assess leading such a force.

The motion is eventually expected to go to a U.N. Security Council vote.

"Even if order was restored to the area, I would not come back," said Orisca Marie Youseline, who grew up in Carrefour-Feuilles and is now one of some 930 people the U.N. estimates is sheltering at the Gymnasium Vincent sports center.

"We are running too much, we are tired of always being victims."


Meanwhile outside the French Embassy, protected by high walls, caged security cameras and barbed wire, protesters set a tire on fire as people patrolled with machetes.

Many Haitians have joined civilian self-defense groups known as "Bwa Kale," a movement which has inspired hope but also sparked retaliation against civilians and stirred fears the groups are spurring on the violence.

After Thursday's escalation, thousands of people who had taken refuge at the Lycee Carrefour-Feuilles moved to other sites, including other schools and the square outside a cinema.

"These places are not made to handle the situation of displaced people," said Gedeon Jean, director at local rights group CARDH, which raised the alarm about the displaced residents -including people who are elderly, disabled, pregnant or with young children- going a week without aid.

Many families living in outdoor tents suffered from rains brought by Tropical Storm Franklin, now a hurricane.

Civil protection, social services and French NGO Medecins du Monde are helping supply the sites, Jean said, adding police were severely under-equipped and "the needs are huge."

"Even if this foreign force comes, when it leaves we will be in the same situation," said Youseline. "They will come for a few months, help us, push the gangs back, and when they leave we will be back here. I don't want to live like this anymore."

(Reporting by Jean Loobentz Cesar in Port-au-Prince and Sarah Morland in Mexico City; Editing by Andrea Ricci)