In Haiti, the uncertain future of children forced to flee gang violence

Temporarily separated from their parents, they kill time by resting on the fine foam mattresses installed on the concrete floors of this establishment in the capital Port-au-Prince, between two activities organized by monitors.

In Haiti, the uncertain future of children forced to flee gang violence

Temporarily separated from their parents, they kill time by resting on the fine foam mattresses installed on the concrete floors of this establishment in the capital Port-au-Prince, between two activities organized by monitors.

"They are traumatized, but if they start to play a game of football, they become children again", explains to AFP sister Paesie, director of the Kizoto organization, responsible for their accommodation in this school run by Catholic brothers. .

"But when we start talking to them, we realize that they have seen horrible things," continues the French nun, who has lived in Haiti for 23 years.

Nearly two weeks ago, the town of Cité Soleil where these young people lived, in the suburbs of Port-au-Prince, turned into a battlefield between rival gangs.

More than 471 people were killed, injured or missing between July 8 and July 17, according to the latest UN tally. And many had to flee.

The vast majority of rescued children have lost their homes to the burning of gang members, according to Sister Paesie.

"A mother had her little baby inside her house: he was killed by being burned in the accommodation. A little one saw her father immolated in front of her", she lists.

- "Weapons pointed" -

Among the inhabitants housed at the Saint-Louis school is Dieula Dubrévil, a refugee with her four children. This woman with a frail silhouette and drawn features had to flee in an emergency.

“Bullets landed inside my house,” she recalls with horror.

"My husband went out, they beat him. They martyred him and injured his head," adds Dieula Dubrévil, who hasn't heard from her spouse for more than two weeks.

"Everyone helps us here in Saint-Louis," says Nicole Pierre, mother of nine children and one of the few adults who was able to flee the confrontation zone at the same time as the youngest.

His brother was not so lucky. He was killed, shot in the stomach while trying to leave their neighborhood.

In total, more than 800 children and twenty adults managed to flee Cité Soleil thanks to religious communities, at the cost of a very risky evacuation operation.

"The principal of one of our schools was very brave, because the guys (gang members, editor's note) had their guns pointed at her," says Sister Paesie.

“She talked to them, telling them that they were only children and she managed to coax them,” recalls the nun.

The evacuees were gradually distributed across six accommodation sites, including the Saint-Louis de Gonzague school.

The schoolchildren's chairs and desks have been pushed back along the walls, the staff has converted a classroom into a depot to store clothes and hygiene products donated by NGOs and individuals.

Humanitarian agencies have provided assistance: the World Food Program has notably provided more than 10,000 hot meals on all the sites where unaccompanied minors have settled.

If they savor this respite, the families know that the reception is only temporary.

With the start of the school year approaching, they will have to leave their refuge in a few weeks.

"People who have family outside Cité Soleil will go to these relatives" but half of the refugees have "no alternative reception solution", worries Sister Paesie.

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