Missionaries land safely in Calgary after fleeing unrest in Haiti

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A dozen missionaries working in Haiti landed safely at the Calgary airport on Sunday after violent riots centred in the country’s capital stranded them for days.

Working for the aid group Haiti Arise, the missionaries had been stranded at a compound near Grand Goave, about 65 kilometres west of the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

« I was sad to leave because I have family down there and friends. And it was different because I hadn’t been in that kind of situation before in all the times I’ve been to Haiti.… It is scary because I know a lot of people in the general area where the riots are happening, » said 12-year-old Miesha Honorat, whose parents co-founded the group and whose father remains in Haiti.

« He didn’t want to send the wrong message, that anytime there’s something wrong we just all leave, » said Lisa Honorat, Miesha’s mother.

Around two dozen Haiti Arise missionaries, who had planned to return on Wednesday, were airlifted by helicopter to Toussaint Louverture International Airport in three waves on Saturday. From there, the group flew to Miami, where they spent Saturday night.

While 12 missionaries returned to Alberta on Sunday, at least a dozen other members of the group are still waiting for flights out of the U.S.

The cost of the evacuation for the whole group is about $6,900, which they are paying themselves.

They were originally scheduled to leave the country on Wednesday, however the ongoing protests meant ground travel was impossible as several of the main streets and roads are blocked or damaged.

Honorat said the family remains committed to their humanitarian work and plans to return once circumstances are safer.

« They always bounce back somehow. So we just try to be there and support and help in any way we can, » she said. 

Most of last week’s demonstrations occurred in Port-au-Prince, with protesters demanding the resignation of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse over skyrocketing inflation and the government’s failure to prosecute embezzlement from a multi-billion dollar Venezuelan program that sent discounted oil to the country.

Protests are expected to resume this week.

A group of missionaries from Alberta wait for a helicopter to take them to the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Saturday. (Haiti Arise/Facebook)

On Tuesday, Global Affairs Canada issued an advisory warning against all non-essential travel to the country. On Thursday, it advised against all travel.

The Canadian Embassy in Haiti was also closed on Wednesday due to the unrest.

Working in the country since 2002, Haiti Arise has three compounds near Grand Goave.

Among the Canadians trapped in Haiti were missionaries, medical personnel, tourists and students. Many have been slowly making their way to the airport via helicopter or, in some cases, dangerous road journeys.

Demonstrators run away from police who are shooting in their direction, as a car burns during a protest demanding the resignation of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in Port-au-Prince on Tuesday. The protests have blocked access to the airport. (Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press)

Some 113 Quebec tourists who had been trapped at a Haitian resort by the protests were also evacuated to the airport by helicopter and were flown to Montreal Saturday night on a chartered commercial flight.

Air Transat also said a group of high school students from Victoriaville, Que., and their chaperones, who had been on a humanitarian trip, were on a flight that was expected to land in Montreal on Sunday evening.

Also travelling home on Sunday were another group of Christian missionaries based out of Montreal, who had been staying in a village some 200 kilometres west of Port-au-Prince.

Michel Bougie, a spokesperson for La Bible Parle, said the group had to hire a Florida-based plane service to get its 26 members to the airport after the Canadian government didn’t step in to offer any practical help.

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Charlottetown teens ‘feeling safe’ in Haiti despite political unrest

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Two young Charlottetown women volunteering at an orphanage in Haiti say they do not want to leave the troubled Caribbean country until their work is complete.

Paige Biggley and Lilly Gillespie, both 18, are among a group teaching English at an orphanage in Saint-Marc, about a two-hour drive from capital city Port-au-Prince.

Some Canadians have left Haiti, and others have been trying to leave, amid violent protests over skyrocketing inflation and the government’s failure to prosecute embezzlement from a multi-billion dollar Venezuelan program that sent discounted oil to the country.

Travel warning

On Tuesday, Global Affairs Canada issued an advisory warning against all non-essential travel to the country. On Thursday, it advised against all travel.

I am extremely happy here and would be very disappointed if we were forced to leave early due to the political unrest. — Paige Biggley

The Canadian embassy in Haiti was closed on Wednesday due to the unrest.

In a text message to CBC, Biggley said she and Gillespie feel safe at the orphanage and are « awaiting news to see what will happen next. »

« I am extremely happy here and would be very disappointed if we were forced to leave early due to the political unrest, » she wrote.

She said they have not come in contact with the protests and are « feeling very safe in the area we are living in. »

Demonstrators flee from police gunfire as a car burns Tuesday in Port-au-Prince. Protesters are angry about skyrocketing inflation and the government’s failure to prosecute embezzlement from a multibillion-dollar Venezuelan program that sent discounted oil to Haiti. (Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press)

Biggley’s father, Joshua, said the safest place for her right now is at the orphanage because she would have to travel to Port-au-Prince, where where most of the violence is happening, in order to leave the country.

« She is in the place that she wants to and needs to be, » he said.

« For her to be so courageous and say, ‘Look, I’m not coming home now, even if they wanted me to or even if everyone else leaves’ … she is adamant that she is going to stay. So, to me, she is my hero. »

Due back on P.E.I. in May

The two women graduated from Colonel Gray High School in Charlottetown last June. They left for Haiti in January through an international language program based out of Utah. They are due to return in early May.

Josh Biggley said, according to his daughter, the protests in Saint-Marc have begun to subside.

On Friday, Paige felt it was safe to go into the downtown area, he said. However, she cancelled a planned six-hour drive to Cap-Haï​tien for safety reasons and, due to a gas shortage, she was uncertain she could find fuel along the way.  

Biggley said the families will continue to keep a close watch on the developments in Haiti.

« It’s difficult as it is to go into a country like Haiti that has such poverty, and then on top of it to throw the uncertainty of a destabilized government with violent protests and a lack of even the basic resources, » he said.

« There’s always the risk that it could spread outside the capital city region and we have to figure out how to get our girls out of Haiti. »  

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