Jackson held out for more than a week as gunfire ripped through his poor neighborhood in the Haitian capital, hoping help would come to end the bloody war for territory between rival gangs.
“For eight days, the volleys of bullets flew non-stop, but we thought the police would intervene,” he said.
But the police never showed up. So, like thousands of others, 29-year-old Jackson – taking nothing but the clothes he wore – ran away from home.
The United Nations said Friday that clashes between rival gangs in the oppressed slums of northern Port-au-Prince have claimed the lives of at least 75 people, including women and children, since it began April 24.
The world body said it was “deeply concerned about the rapid deterioration of the security situation” in the city.
“According to multiple sources, at least 75 people, including women and children, were killed and another 68 injured,” the UN statement read.
He added that at least 9,000 residents of the conflict-affected northern suburbs have been forced to flee their homes and take refuge with relatives or in temporary shelters such as churches and schools.
Jackson held out until last Sunday. He was just returning from the church when the fighting came right to his door.
“I didn’t know the ‘400 mawozo’ gang members were able to cross the bridge” near his home, Jackson said, referring to the most feared of all gangs.
“Suddenly I heard the neighbors yelling ‘I am at the crossroads of Shada’, which meant they were 30 to 40 meters away from me. I had my identity card, my driving license and my insurance card with me. I took my passport and ran outside, ”she said.
As he passed a nearby gas station, he saw gang members accusing the motorcycle taxi drivers who were parked there of being a lookout for a rival gang. “So they shot him,” Jackson said.
For decades, armed gangs have been rampaging in Port-au-Prince’s poorest neighborhoods, but in recent years, they have dramatically increased their hold in the Haitian capital and the country at large, causing murder and kidnappings to skyrocket.
The UN denounced the “extreme violence” of the gangs, stating that local sources have recorded “acts of sexual violence, including the gang rape of children as young as 10, and the terror and intimidation of local populations who they live in areas controlled by gang rivals. ”
The United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, has warned of the impact of gangs on children’s education.
“In Haiti, 500,000 children have lost access to education due to gang-related violence,” reads Friday. “Nearly 1,700 schools are currently closed in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area.”
“No child can go to school while the bullets are flying through the air, it’s dangerous and it doesn’t have to be,” said Bruno Maes, UNICEF representative in Haiti.
The UN office in Haiti has also expressed concern about the recruitment of children into armed gangs.
The Haitian government has not yet commented on the latest outbreak of violence that has put the capital in a state of siege, preventing any safe exit by road to the rest of the country.
Last October, the powerful “400 Mawozo” gang kidnapped a group of 17 North American missionaries and their relatives, including five children.
The district where the violence was concentrated is highly strategic: it contains the only road access to the north of the country as well as between the capital of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Since June, the authorities have also lost control of the only road linking Port-au-Prince to the south. For a stretch of two kilometers (1.2 miles), the highway is completely under the control of armed criminals from the slums of Martissant.
Martissant’s gangs also forced Doctors Without Borders, an international non-profit medical organization, to close a hospital it had run there for 15 years.