WASHINGTON -The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to Haiti and recommends against non-essential travel. This notice replaces the Travel Warning dated June 24, 2010 to reflect continued high crime, the cholera outbreak, frequent disturbances in Port-au-Prince and in provincial cities, and limited police protection and access to medical care.
The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Haiti. The level of violent crime in Port-au-Prince, including murder and kidnapping, remains high, and Haitian authorities have limited capacity to deter or investigate such acts or prosecute perpetrators. While most kidnappings are financially motivated, some kidnapping victims have been physically abused, sexually assaulted, shot and even killed. No one is immune from kidnapping, regardless of one’s occupation, nationality, race, gender, or age.
In a number of cases this year, travelers arriving in Port-au-Prince on flights from the United States were attacked and robbed a short while after departing the airport. At least two U.S. citizens were shot and killed in such incidents. Police believe criminals may be targeting travelers arriving on flights from the United States, following them, and attacking them once they are out of the area. Travelers are advised to use extra caution in arranging transportation from the airport.
Beginning in October, protests, demonstrations, and violent disruptions have occurred regularly in downtown Port-au-Prince. In November, violent demonstrations occurred for several days in and around Cap Haitien, making travel in and out of the area very hazardous. In several cases UN police had to shelter U.S. citizen missionaries and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) workers and coordinate their departure once protests ended. Following the first round of elections in late November, demonstrations occurred in numerous parts of Port-au-Prince and in cities throughout the country. During demonstrations protestors have damaged vehicles, thrown rocks, and burned tires to block traffic. Given the nature, intensity, and unpredictability of these disturbances, U.S. citizens are urged to exercise special caution and avoid areas where demonstrations are occurring or crowds are forming and to maintain a low profile. U.S. citizens in Haiti should be extremely vigilant with regard to their personal security, stay current on media coverage of local events, and be aware of their surroundings at all times.
The Haitian National Police (HNP), with assistance from UN Police (UN Pol), are responsible for keeping peace in Haiti and rendering assistance during times of civil unrest. Given the size and frequency of violent protests, the ability of HNP and UN Pol to come to the aid of U.S. citizens in distress during disturbances is limited. While the U.S. Embassy will make every effort to coordinate HNP and UN Pol assistance, U.S. citizens in Haiti should have well-prepared security plans, including a location to shelter-in-place with provisions and a departure strategy. The U.S. Embassy does not have the capacity or infrastructure to evacuate U.S. citizens and relies on the Haitian National Police to provide assistance.
Travel within Haiti is hazardous; even U.S. Embassy personnel are under an Embassy-imposed curfew and must remain home or in U.S. government facilities during the curfew. Some areas are off-limits to Embassy staff after dark, including downtown Port-au-Prince. The Embassy restricts travel by its staff to some areas outside of Port-au-Prince because of the prevailing road, weather, or security conditions. Transportation is also a safety risk in Haiti, which has no reliable public transportation. Crowded vans and “tap taps” should be avoided because they are often overloaded, driven unsafely, and mechanically unsound. Erratic driving, poor road conditions, and frequent accidents exacerbate the safety situation. These conditions, as well as incidents of violence and demonstrations further limit the Embassy’s ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens outside Port-au-Prince.
The January 12, 2010 earthquake significantly damaged key infrastructure and greatly reduced the capacity of Haiti’s medical facilities. Inadequate public sanitation also poses serious health risks. A recent outbreak of cholera has killed thousands of Haitians and exacerbated these difficult conditions, further strained medical personnel and facilities, and undermined their ability to attend to emergencies.
U.S. citizens wishing to assist in Haiti relief efforts should be aware that – in addition to facing safety and health risks, and despite good intentions - their travel to Haiti will increase the burden on a system already struggling to support those in need. NGOs report that their capacity to absorb additional volunteers is limited. Cash donations are the most effective way to help the relief effort in Haiti. Cash allows established organizations to purchase the exact type and quantity of items needed to help those affected by the earthquake and the cholera outbreak without having to pay the high costs associated with transporting physical donations to Haiti. Financial contributions can be transferred quickly and reduce the challenges posed by limited staff, equipment, and space. Cash donations also support Haiti's local economy and ensure that culturally and environmentally appropriate assistance is rendered.
U.S. citizens who intend to work for an organization involved in relief efforts in Haiti should be aware that living conditions are difficult, and the availability of food supplies, clean drinking water, and adequate shelter in Haiti is often extremely limited. U.S. citizens seeking work with a relief organization should confirm before traveling to Haiti that the organization has the capability to provide food, water, transportation, and shelter for its paid and volunteer workers, including during extended periods of time. All relief organizations should have a security plan in place to protect and evacuate their personnel. The U.S. Embassy does not have the capacity or infrastructure to evacuate U.S. citizens and relies on the Haitian National Police to provide assistance to U.S. citizens.