Most kidnapping victims in Haiti are locals. It’s gotten so bad that people avoid leaving home and take routes to avoid gang-controlled areas.

Haiti street on fire
A man drives his bike around burning tires ignited following a call for a general strike by several professional associations and businesses to denounce the insecurity in Port-au-Prince. RICHARD PIERRIN/AFP via Getty Images
  • A group of mostly-American Christian missionaries were kidnapped in Haiti on Saturday.
  • Insider spoke to experts who described how kidnapping has become an everyday fear for Haitians.
  • “Everyone is constantly scared, constantly on edge, because you never know when this will happen,” one activist said.

The kidnapping of 17 Christian missionaries in Haiti over the weekend is drawing attention to what has become an everyday fear for Haitians.

On Saturday, a group of mostly-American missionaries building an orphanage in Haiti for Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries was kidnapped by a gang called 400 Mawozo.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that the gang is asking for $US1 ($AU1) million for each of the kidnapped missionaries, which include five children.

Insider spoke to Haiti experts who said that kidnappings have become an everyday occurrence in the country, although data shows that the targets are usually locals rather than foreign nationals.

According to consulting group Control Risks, 95% of kidnapping victims in the country since 2018 have been Haitians.

“We are scared. We know that each and every time that we go out of the house there’s a legitimate chance that you’re not going back home,” Kinsley Jean, a university student and local activist, told Insider on Tuesday. “Everyone is constantly scared, constantly on edge, because you never know when this will happen.”

“Everyone that I know is suffering from some kind of anxiety or depression because it’s tough,” Jean added.

Haiti protest
Haitians protesters march through the streets on February 28, 2021 in Port-au-Prince, to denounce the upsurge in kidnappings committed by gangs. REGINALD LOUISSAINT JR/AFP via Getty Images

A report in the Associated Press detailed how everyday life in Haiti has been impacted by the kidnappings and rise in gang violence. Many Haitians are too scared to leave the house, and those that do are forced to take detours to avoid gang-controlled areas.

Amy Wilentz, a journalism professor at the University of California, Irvine, with an expertise on Haiti, told Insider that kidnappings started to become an issue after the 2010 earthquake, which significantly destabilized the country. Haiti has experienced further chaos in the past few months due to the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and another earthquake in August.

What makes things especially scary for Haitians is the fact that anyone can be kidnapped, regardless of how high of a ransom they could garner.

“This can happen to anyone – doctors when they’re at their hospitals, political opponents at the government, even people who are street vendors,” Alyssa Sepinwall, a Haiti expert at California State University, San Marcos, told Insider. “The kidnappers seem to set their price according to what they think family members can pay, but they’ve still been very exorbitant.”

“It’s really frightening for people, the idea that if they can’t come up with this giant sum that their loved one is going to be killed,” Sepinwall added.

Jean said the kidnapping-for-ransom business is a factor fueling the Haitian diaspora.

“If they don’t fix this situation, there will be more and more people leaving the country, even if they have to enter illegally another country. Because they feel like they can’t live here,” Jean said.

Wilentz said it also may lead to some non-governmental organizations pulling out of Haiti, taking away some much needed help for a country in need.

“I think some will react to this by saying we can’t stay,” Wilentz said. “It’s very dangerous. It’s like a war with no war.”