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Haitians Strike to Protest Kidnappings, Lack of Security

A protester takes a selfie at a burning barricade set by protesters in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Oct. 18, 2021.

Haitian workers went on strike Monday to protest the security situation in the country, recently brought to the world's attention by the kidnappings of members of a U.S.-based missionary group.

Streets in the capital, Port-au-Prince, were mostly quiet Monday as workers stayed home to denounce the nation's lack of security.

The White House said Monday the FBI is working to find the missionaries and deliver them to safety.

Members of the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries — 16 Americans and one Canadian — were in Haiti to visit an orphanage. They were kidnapped Saturday.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden was receiving regular updates on the FBI's and the State Department's efforts.

The State Department said Monday it had a small team on the ground working closely with Haitian authorities to find the kidnapped missionaries.

Police remove a roadblock set by protesters in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Oct. 18, 2021.
Police remove a roadblock set by protesters in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Oct. 18, 2021.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the U.S. Embassy team is coordinating with Haiti's national police, the missionary group, family members of the victims, and the Canadian government.

The abduction of the missionaries reflects a kidnapping problem in Haiti that has plagued the nation for years but has grown more prevalent in recent months.

Officials in Haiti's transportation industry, a sector whose workers are often kidnapping targets, initially called for a strike last week. Monday's strike, which other business groups joined, took on additional significance after Saturday's kidnapping of the missionaries.

Most businesses and schools were closed Monday, and public transportation came to a halt.

The Associated Press reported that protesters burned tires in Port-au-Prince and other cities, including Les Cayes in the south.

The United Nations said Monday that a recent upsurge in gang violence in Haiti, including kidnappings, is affecting relief operations.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said gang violence in Port-au-Prince has displaced at least 19,000 people since June and affected more than 1.5 million people.

A U.N. report last month said at least 328 kidnappings were reported to Haitian police in the first eight months of 2021. That is up from 234 kidnappings in all of 2020.

In August, the United States issued a travel warning for Haiti, urging Americans not to visit the nation because of the kidnappings and crime.

Haiti's security situation has been hampered by the country's political crisis following the July assassination of President Jovenel Moise. The country is also suffering from an economic crisis and the aftermath of an August earthquake that killed more than 2,000 people.

VOA's Anita Powell, Nike Ching and Margaret Besheer contributed to this report. Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.