President Trump provoked a swift backlash on Thursday by saying in a private meeting with lawmakers that he would prefer to have more refugees from countries like Norway, whose prime minister visited the White House the day before, and fewer from “shithole” countries like Haiti.
Trump’s comments became the media’s main story on Thursday after they were leaked to The Washington Post following Trump’s meeting with Democratic and Republican legislators on the subject of immigration.
But left out of the ensuing media firestorm was the fact that experts on the subject have said (in less crude terms) that Haiti is a poverty-stricken country frequented by violence and that Americans should avoid traveling there.
The State Department’s travel warning lists Haiti as a “Level 3” country and instructs Americans to “reconsider” going to Haiti because of “crime and civil unrest.”
“Violent crime, such as armed robbery, is common. Local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents or emergencies. Protests, tire burning, and road blockages are frequent and often spontaneous,” the travel warning states.
The State Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council issued a lengthy report in April, offering more details of the common dangers in Haiti.
“Haiti is unique in the Caribbean for its relative lack of tourism, scarcity of foreign investment, and inferior infrastructure,” is how the report started. It got worse from there.
“Crime statistics are woefully underreported by the Haitian National Police (HNP), and reports indicating that Haiti is statistically safer than other countries in the Caribbean are inaccurate,” the report said.
“Traditional tourist-oriented crimes (pickpocketing, purse snatching) are less frequently reported than elsewhere in the region. This results from both a lack of tourism and underreporting.
“The most frequently reported crimes against U.S. citizens in [Haiti’s capital] Port-au-Prince are aggravated assaults and robberies. A typical mugging in Port-au-Prince involves a group of young males who surround and overwhelm a victim in a public area,” the report stated.
The report noted that “Banks continue to be a frequent location for armed robberies. Motorcycle-mounted assailants frequently follow their victims a short distance from a bank and rob them in a less public area. Shootings during these incidents are common.”
Political violence and civil unrest are common in Haiti as well.
The report includes examples of political violence in Haiti from the year before, such as on June 25, 2016, when “6 men on 2 motorcycles shot up the downtown and Delmas area of Port-au-Prince, firing indiscriminately at major businesses, including Natcom, Digicel, Marriott, Behrman Motors, Automeca, and Sogebank.”
“The assailants fired rifles and handguns as the motorcycles passed by, dismounting in front of several business. Several hotel rooms occupied by Americans were impacted by rounds during the attack, but no one was injured,” the report said.
Haiti is “the poorest country in the Americas and one of the poorest in the world,” according to a World Bank report in October, which noted that 59% of Haitians live under the national poverty of $2.41 per day.
At the same time, Haiti is also “also one of the most unequal countries,” the World Bank says.
Human trafficking is a serious problem in the country as well, as a CNN report made clear in November.