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US begins evacuation flights out of Haiti as Americans urge State Department for help

The US Department of State is coming to the aid of about 1,600 Americans stuck in Haiti.

Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, Department Spokesperson Vedant Patel said that the US began evacuating citizens from Port-au-Prince this week. Government-chartered helicopter flights were scheduled to take citizens from Haiti to Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. The two countries share the island of Hispaniola.

There, government personnel are able to provide consular assistance. Citizens will have to find their own way home from the Dominican Republic, Mr Patel added. Several of the trips were expected to take place on Wednesday.

The US may facilitate more helicopter flights depending on the level of demand, the situation on the ground and availability of commercial transportation. The state department does not recommend that US citizens travel to Haiti under any circumstances.

The country has had that designation ever since 2020. The security in the country is high risk, especially in the capital.

“Our hope is to keep these options available for American citizens who need it, and the feasibility and the assessment of that work is going to be ongoing,” the spokesperson continued, adding that the state department would not facilitate the flights if they believed them to be unsafe.

In late February, gangs in Haiti launched attacks against the capital’s international airport, a sea port and released thousands of prisoners from the country’s national penitentiary, in addition to burning numerous police stations.

It’s thought that the gangs were partly frustrated with the lack of general elections in the country. Mr Henry was the longest-serving prime minister since Haiti’s constitution was founded in 1987. He’d been in his position since 2021.

The country’s prime minister at the time, Ariel Henry, was not in Haiti and has not been able to return to the country. He eventually landed in Puerto Rico and has since resigned from his port.

A group of global leaders met in Kingston, Jamaica earlier this month to determine the future of the Caribbean nation. Plans were set to appoint a transitional presidential council and a security support mission.

Mr Patel said that conversations about who would serve on the council were ongoing.

“We think this needs to happen swiftly because it is clear to us that this Haitian-led process is key for paving the way for free and fair elections”, he said.

Anyone wishing to secure a helicopter flight out of the country can do so using an intake form. Mr Patel said that not all of the 1,600 submissions the state department received so far were from individuals wanting to secure passage out of Haiti.

Some wanted to stay in touch with the US embassy in Port-au-Prince, were seeking advice on how to stay safe and wanted to discuss departure options down the line.