Quebecers stranded in Haiti during violent protests
Published Thursday, February 14, 2019 7:52AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 14, 2019 7:27PM EST
Dozens of people from Quebec are stuck in resorts in Haiti as violent protests roil the country.
About 100 tourists at the Royal Decameron resort, roughly 70 km from Toussaint Louverture Airport, cannot return home because the only highway that connects the resort to the airport is considered extremely dangerous.
Thousands of people have taken part in protests in Port-au-Prince over the past week to demand President Jovenel Moise resign in the wake of a corruption scandal.
Almost $4 billion that was supposed to be devoted to social development has gone missing.
At least four people have died following clashes with police, and 78 prisoners escaped from jail because police were diverted to deal with protests.
Canada closed its embassy in Haiti on Thursday, and Global Affairs Canada has been advising since Wednesday to avoid any non-essential travel to Haiti.
The federal agency says it is monitoring developments to determine what measures are needed to keep Canadian diplomats and their families safe.
Quebec Minister of International Relations Nadine Girault said the government is in close touch with its federal counterparts.
“It's a federal case as you know. We're following the situation very, very closely. Myself, I have people that are very close to me there, also. They're in communication with them. I know they're doing everything possible to bring them back safely,” said Girault.
Cinthia Pietrantonio of Montreal is among those at the resort who are desperate for information.
She booked her trip through Air Transat and has been trying to get answers from the airline's representatives since Sunday.
"We still have no information of what's going on. We don't know if Air Transat is helping us. The representative is 'we're there for you, we're there for you we're there for you,' and when it comes time for questions to be answered, of what's next, what do we do, do we need to move up our flights, are there solutions? There's no answer," said Pietrantonio.
She said tourists from France and the United States have taken a helicopter from the resort to the airport to avoid the protests, but that she has been told by Air Transat the airline will not be responsible for her safety or belongings if she does that.
"It's super stressful. My family in Montreal is panicked, my friends are panicked because they want me home, my boyfriend and I home, safe," said Pietrantonio.
Rescue flight on standby
Air Transat said its flights between Montreal and Haiti are continuing, but it cannot yet provide safe ground transportation from the Royal Decameron resort to the airport.
Christophe Hennebelle, VP for Air Transat, said the airline is working with the federal government to assure the safety of travellers and is considering hiring security guards to escort the stranded tourists to the airport.
"They're at the moment perfectly safe in the hotel. We are looking at all the possibilities to bring them back to Canada," said Hennebelle.
The tourists are scheduled to return to Canada on Sunday but they may return earlier.
If they stay later Air Transat will cover all extra expenses, and Hennebelle said nobody will leave the resort unless Ottawa agrees with the company's plan.
An Air Transat plane and crew are on standby to fly to Haiti and bring everyone back to Canada.
"We have a plane on standby so we are perfectly able to organize a rescue flight anytime as soon as it's safe to bring the passengers to the airport," said Hennebelle. "We are not security specialists, so we are talking to authorities to make sure we have their blessing on our plans."
City of Montreal employees have returned
Eight SPVM officers in Haiti on training missions will remain in the country, but the decision was already made to have two city of Montreal employees return to Canada.
"It's not a decision we took lightly because we want to help the people of Haiti as much as possible, but we have to protect our employees and ensure they are safe," said Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante.
One employee returned Wednesday, while the other was scheduled to return on Thursday.
The city employees were taking part in reconstruction efforts after the 2010 earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince.
- With files from The Canadian Press