Albertans who found their way home from Haiti amid gang violence call crisis worst ‘ever seen’

Two Albertans who recently managed to flee Haiti as gang violence continues to keep the Caribbean country in a state of turmoil are speaking out about the current crisis and the gratitude they feel because they are safe.

“I’ve been there probably 10 times,” Barry Kalinski said of the country. “There are a lot of things that need to change in Haiti, everyone knows that. I don’t know what the answer is, but the situation has been in turmoil for quite a long time. But it’s really turmoil now – the worst I’ve ever seen.

“(I’ve been through) roadblocks before and I’ve heard gunshots and stuff like that, but I’ve never seen it like that.”

Kalinski, the reeve of the Bonnyville Municipal District, spoke to Global News on Thursday after recently managing to find a way out of the troubled country thanks to a flight organized by U.S. authorities. He noted that he was able to return home just before he and his wife’s 39th wedding anniversary.

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“This is the longest we’ve been apart,” he said.

“It was probably harder on her and my family than it was on me.”

Click to play video: “Albertan stranded in Haiti amid violence in capital”

Albertan stranded in Haiti amid violence in capital

Marc Honorat, who was born and raised in Haiti but now lives in Airdrie, Alberta, spoke to Global News on Friday. Exactly a week earlier, he was finally able to take a flight to Florida where he was reunited with his family.

“We always have problems in Haiti, but this time it was unexpected,” he said of the escalating violence. “The airport was completely closed…I had no way of leaving the country.

“It’s bittersweet actually. I missed my family, my wife and my children… But at the same time… I left my community, my people, my staff, in that situation there.

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Honorat and his wife, Lisa Honorat, are the co-founders of Haiti ARISE Ministries, which he says currently still has about 200 people working for the organization in the Caribbean country. The organization runs a children’s home and a few schools there.

On Monday, Federal Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly announced Canada’s evacuation plan for citizens still in Haiti who hope to leave. The country is experiencing a host of problems, including food shortages amid escalating violence led by armed gangs.

Earlier this month, a state of emergency and curfews were extended in Haiti. Ariel Henry, the country’s unelected prime minister who assumed the role following the 2021 assassination of then-President Jovenel Moïse, said he would resign.

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Under his administration, armed gangs increased their wealth and influence, ultimately prompting Henry to request international aid in 2022 to help remedy the situation.

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A recent report from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights indicates that the number of people killed and injured due to gang violence in Haiti increased significantly in 2023: 4,451 people were killed and 1,668 injured . In 2024, 1,554 people have already been killed and 826 injured.

Kalinski was in Haiti on a religious trip to offer aid to orphans and elderly people there.

“You do a lot of little things for a lot of people who have nothing,” he says of his work. “It makes you feel like you have a million dollars just to put a doorknob on an old house.” It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a big deal for these orphans.

An undated photo of Barry Kalinski in Haiti.

Provided by Barry Kalinski

In Haiti, the security situation rapidly deteriorated, and Kalinski drove with an American volunteer to a part of the island far from Port-au-Prince to try to find a safer place.

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“I’ve never been in danger as far as I know,” he said. “Even though I was in danger, I had so many people praying for me and for my safety.

“All their prayers and thoughts, it’s really overwhelming.”

Kalinski said he and others with him were supposed to leave March 17 on a flight organized by a nonprofit organization, but due to a number of problems, only some people were able to board edge. When he was able to board a flight organized by American authorities a week later, he said it was a relief.

“It’s a good feeling to be home, as you can imagine,” he said.

Marc Honorat traveled to Haiti on February 21 and planned to leave the country on March 8, but gang violence prevented him from leaving until March 22.

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“My wife was trying to find and contact organizations that might be able to get me out,” he said of his ordeal. “But they were asking me between $100,000 and $250,000 to take me from where I was, in the north of the island, to the DR (Dominican Republic).

“I didn’t have that kind of money, and even if I did have that kind of money, we need it too much in Haiti. …I just grounded myself.

That’s when Lisa Honorat made contact with Agape Flights Inc., who was ultimately able to bring her husband home.

“Three days before we could fly, they said, ‘Well, we’re arriving March 22, so get ready.’ We will do our best to come and get you and other people,’” Marc Honorat said.

“I actually miss Haiti, because that’s where I was born and raised. …I actually can’t wait to go back, …while it’s relatively safe to go back. …(but) it’s good to be back and be with my wife and kids.

Lisa Honorat said she and her husband’s work over the years has presented them with risks and challenges before, but normally from natural disasters.

“It really causes a lot of insecurity,” she said. “And this is not the Haiti we have known for so long.

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“Now it’s not safe anymore. We cannot take our family there at the moment. And for us to be afraid of (Marc’s) life as a national, it’s really different for us. It’s heartbreaking not to be able to be there right now. But I’m glad he’s home.

She added that when she and her family were in Haiti, the people there were always friendly and welcoming and that despite widespread poverty, they felt relatively safe. She said the situation had become increasingly dangerous in recent years, noting that people were increasingly avoiding Port-au-Prince “at all costs.”

Kalinski explained how his spiritual faith helped them get through difficult times in Haiti.

He said he read the Bible regularly to help him “try to be a better man.”

Kalinski said he believes his very first trip to Haiti, years ago, had a significant impact on his view of humanity.

“I have plenty, I don’t need anything more,” he said. “I am very lucky. … I give a lot more than I did 14, 15 or 20 years ago. They have nothing, (and) we probably have too much.

“It seems like we’re always yearning for more, and we have a lot. We have food on the table every day. I was never hungry. I never had to do without it.

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“For many of these people, every day is a challenge to eat a meal. And then, if you have a bunch of little kids sitting there, I can’t imagine the pressure for a mom or a dad. It must be incredible. I never had this feeling.

Click to play the video: “An Alberta politician on a mission to Haiti”

An Alberta politician on a mission to Haiti

Marc Honorat said he hopes people across the planet, especially political leaders, will pay attention to what is happening in Haiti and offer help.

Lisa Honorat explained that “Haiti is such a country in need that we would not have the right to turn our backs on it.”

“I mean, someone has to pay attention and provide and help,” she said.

“To change Haiti, we must continue to educate the younger generation,” said Marc Honorat. “That’s what we’ve done over the years and that’s what we will continue to do.”

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Kalinski said he thought he would probably return to Haiti one day.

“It’s not for everyone,” he said of traveling to that country and offering help. “It’s not easy… (but) people are very grateful.”

–With files from Kabi Moulitharan and Aaron D’Andrea of ​​Global News, Edith Lederer of The Associated Press and La Presse Canadienne

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