Criminals in Haiti are preying on vulnerable earthquake survivors, even raping women, in makeshift camps set up in Port-au-Prince after the disaster.
“With the blackout that’s befallen the Haitian capital, bandits are taking advantage to harass and rape women and young girls under the tents,” Haiti’s police, chief Mario Andresol, said yesterday.
“We have more than 7,000 detainees in the streets who escaped from the national penitentiary the evening of the earthquake … It took us five years to apprehend them. Today they are running wild.” Rachelle Dolce, who is living at a large makeshift camp on the Petionville Club golf course, said that she thought a rape had occurred outside her tent the previous night. She said that she heard men making noise and a woman struggling.
“I heard a fight outside and I saw panties on the ground,” she said. “I started to shout a lot and they left.” Figures for the number of crimes were not available but women’s organizations have already detailed a number of cases and alerted the United Nations mission in Haiti, Mr Andresol said.
His warning came a day after the UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, said that gangsters and child traffickers could try to exploit the chaos triggered by Haiti’s devastating earthquake to step up their criminal activities.
The January 12 earthquake killed around 170,000 people and left more than a million homeless, many of whom are living in makeshift camps in the ruined capital.
Security was tenuous in Haiti before the 7.0-magnitude quake and Mr Andresol said that the police force itself had been crippled by the disaster.
He added that the Haitian police force had only 8,000 members before the quake and that many of them were now dead or missing. A large number of the remaining officers were demoralized or traumatized.
“We lost 70 police officers, nearly 500 are still missing and 400 were wounded,” Mr Andresol said at a temporary office standing in for the capital’s police headquarters, which collapsed in the quake.
The deputy head of the UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti, Anthony Banbury, said that desperate survivors waiting in line for the trickle of foreign aid reaching Haiti were sometimes turning violent.
“It attracts big crowds and there can be disorder around the food distribution so it’s absolutely necessary that we get enough food, enough water, enough shelter for the people, and enough security,” he said.
At the Champ de Mars tent camp that skirts the crumpled National Palace, displaced survivors said that government security was virtually absent.
“At night people take things,” said Omen Cola, as she washed a blouse in basin made from a cut-off plastic container. “But I don’t have a problem. I don’t have anything to steal.” Residents said that they largely fended for themselves, gathering their meagre belongings into a pile at night and sleeping beside them to guard against theft.
In corners of the sprawling camp youths said that they were banding together to protect their possessions — bags of clothes, chickens, car batteries — and to collect rubbish into piles to be burned.
This raised fears, however, that the bands might fight among themselves.
Tina Irisia, 45, said that youths from outside the camp had come in, shouting that a tsunami was on the way. When people fled they stole whatever they could get their hands on, she said.
“I don’t feel safe but I don’t have anywhere else to go,” Ms Irisia said as she sliced green peppers in a pan.
“Only Jesus Christ is watching over us,” said Mariana Merise, 40, a neighbour.
The chaos left by the earthquake has also raised fears that vulnerable children could fall prey to human traffickers. The UN said last week that a number have gone missing from hospitals in Haiti.
The US State Department said yesterday that it was working with Haiti’s Government to crack down on trafficking.