Flight plans allow Haitian evacuation

U.S. green-card holders, Haitian nationals and others with proper travel documents, who until now have been unable to get out of violence-torn Haiti, will finally get a chance to leave -- if they can safely make it to Cap-Haitien, the city north of Port-au-Prince.

Haiti-based Sunrise Airways, which launched services to Miami International Airport in October, says it will operate three flights out of Cap-Haitien's Hugo Chavez International Airport to Miami beginning Monday.

For now, the airline has confirmed flights to Miami International Airport for Monday, Wednesday and Friday, said spokesperson Stephanie Armand. The carrier is also launching, beginning Monday, daily flight service between the cities of Les Cayes, in the south of Haiti, and Cap-Haitien.

Before the violence forced the cancellation of domestic and international flights in Haiti, Sunrise Airways operated daily domestic flights throughout Haiti. It also operated flights last week between Miami International Airport and Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince and between Miami and Cap-Haitien.

The Miami-bound flight is "totally open for sale to any passengers with the required travel document," Armand said. The tickets can be booked online, she said.

The website includes a prompt for airline passengers who had a ticket but were stranded after the airline's cancellations.

While connecting to the Sunrise Airways flight still requires those trapped in Port-au-Prince to fly by helicopter to Cap-Haitien -- or risk travel through gang-controlled roads to reach the northern city -- it is an option that, until now, has not existed for most people in Haiti.

The U.S. State Department said nearly 1,600 Americans have reached out seeking help to get out of Haiti, given that commercial flights from major U.S. carriers have been halted since March 4, when armed groups targeted the Toussaint Louverture International Airport, along with the nearby seaport.

On Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre emphasized that Haiti has been under a Level 4 "Do Not Travel" warning since 2020 "precisely because of the ongoing instability" caused by the gangs.

The State Department has been able to organize helicopter flights out of Haiti and pledged to evacuate around 30 Americans per day.

The U.S. government flights, which require passengers to sign a promissory note for payment, are open only to U.S. citizens. This has left holders of green cards with few options to get out of Haiti. Dominican authorities are not allowing people with Haitian passports to enter their country.

Dominican officials said the complaints are overblown.

Dominican Air Force Gen. Mao Gomez Vasquez, who heads the Security Department of the Foreign Ministry, said that around 560 people have already been evacuated by helicopter, but that the Dominican Republic has a protocol to process the flights that must be followed to make sure the people entering into its territory have the proper documentation and can prove their identities.

The screening process is necessary given the recent prison breaks that took place in Haiti, Foreign Minister Roberto Alvarez added.

"In Haiti, there is a very precarious government and that means that the other side ... works very slowly," Alvarez said, adding that is one of the reasons for the delays.

The screening process is paralyzed, an air company official said. "There is a real bottleneck," he said. "And it is on the side of the Dominican Republic."

Calls from stranded people to air rescue companies have become frantic as the violence grows in Port-au-Prince, with reports that heavily armed groups are advancing into new zones of the capital.

More than 2,500 people have recently been killed, kidnapped or injured, said Ulrika Richardson, the deputy special representative of the United Nations secretary general in Haiti. She said sexual violence is rampant, along with the use of torture and "collective rape" against women.

Armed groups launched simultaneous attacks Saturday in several neighborhoods in an effort to stretch police forces and draw them away from protected targets like the National Palace.

Haiti is also "one step away from famine," Richardson warned, calling for urgent support for a U.N. humanitarian response plan that requires $674 million but has received little funding.

Information for this article was contributed by Jacqueline Charles and Antonio Maria Delgado of the Miami Herald (TNS).

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