The United States has updated its travel warning to its citizens, advising US citizens to "exercise caution" when visiting Haiti and "strongly" encouraging visitors to "obtain evacuation insurance." The advisory was issued by the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince online and on its Facebook page— which it uses to offer regular updates on potential security issues.
The warning replaces a standing warning that was last updated in December 2014.
"Hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit Haiti each year, but the poor state of Haiti’s emergency response network should be carefully considered when planning travel," the department said in its statement. "Travelers to Haiti are encouraged to use organizations that have solid evacuation and medical support options in place."
The advisory notes that crime in general— and specifically, targeted kidnappings of US citizens— have declined. But it warned that there were dozens of reported robberies of people leaving the airport in Port-au-Prince between May and October 2014— three of which resulted in fatalities. "In almost all cases reported to the Embassy, the victims were U.S. citizens of Haitian descent visiting family and friends," said the statement.
The full statement follows:
The Department of State has issued this Travel Warning to inform U.S. citizens traveling to or living in Haiti about the lack of adequate emergency medical facilities, and the security environment in Haiti. This replaces the Travel Warning dated December 4, 2014 and provides updated information regarding the changing nature of crime involving United States citizens in Haiti.
The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to exercise caution when visiting Haiti given Haiti’s weak emergency response infrastructure. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit Haiti each year, but the poor state of Haiti’s emergency response network should be carefully considered when planning travel. Travelers to Haiti are encouraged to use organizations that have solid evacuation and medical support options in place. (Please see the Country Specific Information page for Haiti.)
Haiti's emergency management infrastructure remains in poor condition. We strongly encourage visitors to Haiti to obtain evacuation insurance. A new private air ambulance company has opened recently, representing a significant advance in response services, but its service is limited. Those traveling in rural areas of Haiti should verify service to where they are traveling. Additionally, medical facilities in Haiti, including road ambulance services, are particularly weak. Some U.S. citizens injured in accidents and others with serious health concerns have been unable to find necessary medical care in Haiti and have had to arrange and pay for medical evacuation to the United States.
Reports of kidnappings have fallen off sharply, with just one incident involving a U.S. citizen reported to the Embassy so far in 2015, continuing a dramatic decline in such crimes since 2011. While the Government of Haiti, however, has made progress in arresting and disrupting perpetrators, kidnapping for ransom can still affect anyone in Haiti, most particularly those maintaining long-term residency in the country.
We urge U.S. citizens to remain aware of the possibility of robbery, especially in the Port-au-Prince area and in particular soon after leaving the airport. While Haitian authorities have taken serious measures to improve airport security and the frequency of these crimes is down, from May to October 2014 there were 64 reported cases of U.S. citizens being robbed shortly after departing the airport, a spike associated with the busy travel period during the summer.
Three of these robberies resulted in the death of U.S. citizens. In almost all cases reported to the Embassy, the victims were U.S. citizens of Haitian descent visiting family and friends. Therefore, we urge U.S. citizens to be circumspect in sharing specific travel plans, and we recommend that U.S. citizens have their host or organization meet them at the airport upon arrival and/or have pre-arranged airport transfers and hotels. The Embassy is currently monitoring the occurrence of airport robberies as we move into the busy summer travel season.
We also urge U.S. citizens to exercise caution when visiting banks in Port-au-Prince. Robbery crews have been known to surveil banks and rob customers shortly after departure.
"Regions of Haiti outside the capital have reported fewer incidents of crime. The Haitian authorities' ability to respond to emergencies is limited, however, and in some areas nonexistent. Embassy employees are required to adhere to certain required security and safety measures when traveling outside of Port-au-Prince, and they have restrictions on travel in certain areas or times. Additionally, U.S. Embassy personnel are under an Embassy-imposed curfew from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. and must remain at home or another safe facility during curfew hours. This may constrain the Embassy’s ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens outside of Port-au-Prince. For additional details on restrictions on staff travel within Haiti, please see our Country Specific Information for Haiti.
"While the United Nations’ Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) currently supports the activities of the Haitian National Police (HNP), their numbers will decrease during 2015 as mandated by the U.N. Security Council. The HNP, with assistance from MINUSTAH, is responsible for maintaining order and rendering assistance. Given the possibility and unpredictability of spontaneous protests, however, their ability to assist U.S. citizens during disturbances is very limited. U.S. government-facilitated evacuations, such as the evacuation that took place from Haiti in 2010, occur only when no safe commercial alternatives exist. Please see our website for additional information on how the Department of State assists U.S. citizens during a crisis.
"We urge U.S. citizens who choose to travel to Haiti to review our Country Specific Information page. U.S. private sector organizations with operations in Haiti can obtain additional information on the security situation in the country through the U.S. Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC). OSAC’s mission is to promote security cooperation between U.S. private sector interests worldwide and the U.S. Department of State. OSAC also maintains an active Country Council in Haiti to promote the exchange of security-related information. The Council is comprised of security professionals and is co-chaired by the Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy Port-au-Prince and a private sector representative. U.S. private sector entities can obtain additional information on OSAC by visiting the OSAC website.
"We strongly urge U.S. citizens to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in order to receive the most up-to-date security information. While the Embassy's ability to provide emergency consular services is extremely limited, travel enrollment will enable you to receive security messages via email. Current information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States; callers outside the United States and Canada can receive the information by calling a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, except U.S. federal holidays.
"The U.S. Embassy is located in Port-au-Prince at Boulevard du 15 Octobre, Tabarre 41, Tabarre, Haiti, telephone: (509) 2229-8000, facsimile: (509) 2229-8027, email: firstname.lastname@example.org American Citizens Services (ACS) Unit office hours are 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. The Consular Section is closed on U.S. and local holidays. After hours, on weekends and on holidays, please call (509) 2229-8000 and an automated attendant will connect you with the Embassy duty officer. U.S. citizens can also stay informed about conditions in Haiti by following the Embassy and ACS on Twitter and Facebook."