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The U.S. Embassy in Haiti is urging American citizens to depart the country amid gang violence and unrest. What's going on?

People in the middle of the street protest in Haiti.
People protest in Haiti on Feb. 7. (Richard Pierrin/AFP via Getty Images)

Haiti is on the brink of a civil war as an alliance of gangs threatens “genocide” to citizens there and has compromised the country’s infrastructure. The U.S. Embassy in Haiti has issued two alerts this week urging American citizens in the country to leave immediately. Here’s why Haiti is in a state of emergency and what Americans there should know.

🇭🇹 What’s happening

The Haitian government says that gang violence has created a “deterioration in security” in the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince. Armed gang members have assassinated and kidnapped “peaceful citizens” and carried out gruesome attacks on government institutions.

Gangs have reportedly killed at least five police officers and set fire to Port-au-Prince police stations since the end of February. The latest target was a police station in the Saloman market, an open-air spot with heavy foot traffic. They have also set fire to a peace court in Croix-des-Bouquets.

On Saturday night, two Haitian government officials told ABC News, thousands of inmates escaped Haiti’s largest prison, the National Penitentiary, after a planned attack by armed gunmen. They said that out of about 4,000 inmates, less than 100 remained at the facility.

Another prison was under siege the same night in Croix-des-Bouquets, an area that the Haitian National Police says is under gang control.

Maps show the locations of Croix-des-Bouquets Prison and Haiti.
The location of Croix-des-Bouquets Prison. (Elmurod Usubaliev/Anadolu via Getty Images)

On Sunday, Haiti declared a 72-hour state of emergency and imposed a curfew to try “to restore the order and to take appropriate measures in order to regain control of the situation,” according to a press release. The state of emergency has now been extended by a month.

On Monday, gang members tried to seize control of Toussaint Louverture International Airport, Haiti’s main airport, before being thwarted by security forces.

That same day, the U.S. Embassy in Haiti issued a security alert advising Americans to leave Port-au-Prince immediately. On Wednesday, the embassy issued the same security alert in response to the violence.

Also on Wednesday, the National Human Right Defense Network reported that more than 20 other buildings in Haiti have been set on fire or looted.

🚨 What’s causing the violence?

Gang leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier and his men, holding rifles, stand on a sidewalk.
Gang leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier and his men in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Tuesday. (Clarens Siffroy/ AFP)

Monday’s alert was triggered by violence that escalated on Feb. 29, the day Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry left for a regional summit in Kenya to push for the United Nations to deploy multinational police reinforcements to quell the violence.

Haiti is still reeling from the July 2021 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. The country has not had any parliamentary or general elections since then. Henry became prime minister with international support after Moïse’s death but was supposed to leave office in February and relinquish his power to newly elected officials.

Instead, he agreed to a power-sharing deal with political opposition groups and vowed to hold general elections by mid-2025.

But Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, an ex-police officer and gang leader of G9 — an alliance of several gangs — has threatened a “civil war” among Haitians that “will lead to genocide” if Henry does not leave his position.

“Today, we announce that all armed groups are going to act to get Prime Minister Ariel Henry to step down," Chérizier said in a video posted on social media, according to CBS News, right before the latest round of attacks.

“We will use all strategies to achieve this goal,” he said. “We claim responsibility for everything that’s happening in the streets right now.”

According to CNN, the U.S. is pushing for “urgent” movement toward a political transition. The Miami Herald said that the U.S. tried to persuade Henry to step down midflight Tuesday as he was returning to Haiti.

🇺🇲 How can American citizens leave Haiti?

While the U.S. Embassy in Haiti called for U.S. citizens to depart the country as soon as possible by “commercial or other privately available transportation options,” the embassy said it cannot help private U.S. citizens with air travel. Instead, it advised people to call airlines that fly in and out of Haiti. But many commercial airlines have suspended their flights. The embassy has also encouraged people to keep checking its website for alerts that may give options for leaving the country.

The alert says that if you do have to travel, avoid crowds, keep a low profile, stay alert, travel by day, carry proper ID, and prepare to shelter in place “for an extended time period.”

The State Department, which in July issued a “do not travel” warning for Haiti, echoed the U.S. Embassy’s advice to U.S. citizens in its own security alert on X on Wednesday.

“Monitor local news and information on security conditions from commercial transportation providers and arrange to leave Haiti when security conditions and commercial transportation options permit doing so,” the post read.