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A demonstrator holds up an Haitian flag during protests demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry. Alamy Stock Photo

'It's like The Purge': Irish aid agency worker on being trapped in Haiti amid worsening gun battles

Matt Knight of GOAL leads a team of more than 70 aid workers in Haiti.

AN AID WORKER trapped in the Haitian capital of Port au Prince has likened the heavy fighting in the city to the horror film The Purge. 

Matt Knight of GOAL is the country director for Haiti and leads a team of more than 70 aid workers with the Irish charity. 

He is staying in a compound in the city where he hears the nightly gun battles as brutal gangs fight pitched battles with each other. Such is the danger that he is advised to stay inside.

Port au Prince is the size of Dublin with 1.2 million people living there and most are in desperate need of humanitarian help, which Knight is working to deliver. 

Speaking via video call from his compound, Knight said he is occasionally able to get outside during the day but it is very dangerous; at night the compound goes into lockdown as gun battles happen close by. 

He said the violence is widespread and unpredictable. So far, there have been high profile attacks on the port, the airport, the Presidential Palace and the police academy. 

armed-members-of-the-g9-and-family-gang-stand-guard-at-their-roadblock-in-the-delmas-6-neighborhood-of-port-au-prince-haiti-monday-march-11-2024-ap-photoodelyn-joseph Armed members of the G9 and Family gang in Haiti yesterday. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

He has said that there is little organisation among the gangs and that many of the gunmen are drinking heavily and marauding around Port au Prince. Knight said it has turned the pre-existing problem of displaced people across Haiti into a full-blown crisis. 

“The fear factor comes from the fact that the violence seems random in many respects.

“What you don’t see in the news is there are these random gun battles that take place almost on a daily basis where nobody really knows why they’re happening in particular areas. 

“It’s a bit like The Purge. It feels like I’m locked in and what’s going on outside is just random gangs of guys roaming around heavily armed, often drunk and with no plan, no political motivation for what they’re doing. They’re just causing havoc,” he explained. 


The Journal has previously reported on the collapse in Haitian society as the gangs seek to take over the impoverished island nation. 

Reports from Haiti have said that there is widespread violence which includes systematic sexual violence against both women and men. 

david-lorens-mentormaxppp-05032024-le-leader-de-lalliance-des-gangs-du-vivre-ensemble-barbecue-saccorde-une-interview-dans-sa-circonscription-generale-delmas-2-jimmy-cheriz Jimmy Barbeque Cherizier this week with fellow G9 gang members. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

While tensions had calmed after the major outbreak of violence in late 2022, it has flared up again in recent weeks.

Heavily armed gangs are sowing terror in much of Haiti, where former police officer Jimmy Chérizier – ominously known as ‘Barbeque’ – is the leader of G9, the biggest gang. 

The gangs are blocking distribution of goods from a main port, at the same time as a resurgence of cholera threatens public health in the impoverished nation.

The lack of food and fuel getting in to Haiti has led to a near famine level of hunger on the streets. 

Graphic press photographer images taken last week show bodies in the streets, including one image of a burned body next to a barricade. 

US Marines were deployed by helicopter earlier this week to the embassy in Port au Prince to extract staff as concerns mounted that it would be overrun. 

There had been suggestions of a military intervention and recently the Haitian government had attempted to get Kenya to deploy troops to quell the fighting. 

Ariel Henry, the prime minister, announced his resignation on the early hours of Tuesday morning at an emergency meeting in Jamaica where US Secretary of State Antony Blinken offered $100 million (€91 million) to go towards a security force, led by Kenya, to try to quell the fighting. 

GOALie Matt Knight at shelled sites in Kharkiv (December 2022) A file image of aid worker Matt Knight in Kharkiv - he is now based in Haiti. GOAL GOAL

Sources in the country told The Journal that it is predicted the upswing in violence is expected to calm with this development – critically it is hoped that the airport and port will reopen for aid shipments.  

GOAL workers

Aid agencies have stayed in the country and one of those is the Irish organisation GOAL which has 78 staff working to help local people. 

Knight said that his team had been focused on providing sanitation and water as well as food and medical assistance for the people living in Haiti – with a particular focus in the Port au Prince area known as Carrefour to the west of the city centre.

He said that GOAL workers, many of whom are locals employed by the agency, had contacted the gangs and been permitted safe passage in the past. That has now changed. 

“Now in those very same areas, those very same gangs are battling with other gangs, and driving out the people that we would normally be delivering aid to.

“So there’s a kind of sense that they’re cutting off their noses to spite their face in some ways, because if you’re not allowing humanitarian access, then members of your own community are suffering and having to leave that community,” he added. 

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Such is the precarious safety situation that GOAL and other agencies have suspended working in the communities but Knight said he is liaising with security experts to find a way to get back out delivering aid.

He said there has been a change in recent days as ‘Barbeque’ is now portraying himself as a Robin Hood figure in local media. 

The GOAL aid worker paid tribute to the Irish public and Irish Aid for their support.