UN-Backed Police Arrive in Haiti as Kenyan Force Prepares to Confront Gangs

The first contingent of foreign police, backed by the United Nations, arrived in Haiti on Tuesday, nearly two years after the troubled Caribbean country urgently requested assistance to curb a surge in gang violence.

A couple of hundred police officers from Kenya landed at the , whose main international airport reopened in late May after gang violence forced its closure for nearly three months.

The Kenyans’ initial assignment remains unclear, but they will confront violent gangs that control 80% of Haiti’s capital and have displaced over 580,000 people across the nation as they ransack neighborhoods in their bid for more territory. Gangs have also claimed the lives of thousands in recent years.

The arrival of the Kenyans marks the fourth major foreign military intervention in Haiti. While some Haitians welcome their presence, others view the force with reservations, given that the previous intervention – the U.N.’s 2004-2017 peacekeeping mission – was tainted by allegations of sexual assault and the introduction of cholera, which caused the deaths of nearly 10,000 people.

Romain Le Cour, senior expert at Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, urged the international community and government officials to disclose details, including the mission’s rules of engagement and operational strategy.

“What will happen with the gangs,” he asked. “Will it be a stationary mission? A mobile one? Those details are still absent, and I believe it’s high time for transparency.”

Hours after the Kenyans landed, Prime Minister Garry Conille expressed gratitude to the East African nation for its solidarity, highlighting the gangs’ vandalism of homes and hospitals, and the arson of libraries, making Haiti “unlivable.”

“The country is facing immensely challenging times,” he stated at a news conference. “Enough is enough. … We’re going to initiate efforts, step by step, to reclaim our country.”

Conille announced that the Kenyans would be deployed within the next few days, but he refrained from providing specifics. He was joined by Monica Juma, Kenya’s former minister of foreign affairs, currently serving as national security advisor to President William Ruto. She assured that the Kenyans will “act as agents of peace, stability, and hope.”

“We stand united in our commitment to supporting Haiti’s National Police in restoring public order and security,” she affirmed. “We hope that this will not become a permanent mission.”

The deployment comes nearly four months after gangs initiated coordinated attacks, targeting key government infrastructure in Haiti’s capital and beyond. They seized control of more than two dozen police stations, fired upon the main international airport, and stormed Haiti’s two largest prisons, freeing over 4,000 inmates.

“We’ve been pleading for security for the longest time,” remarked Orgline Bossicot, a 47-year-old mother of two who sells carrots and charcoal as a wholesale distributor.

Gang violence has severely impacted her sales, and she attempts to stay out as late as possible before sundown to compensate for the losses, despite her fear.

“You never know who might be lurking around the corner,” she said, expressing hope about the Kenyan police joining forces with local authorities.

Critics contend that the gang attacks that began on February 29 could have been averted had the foreign force been deployed earlier, but multiple setbacks – including a legal challenge filed in Kenya and political turmoil in Haiti – delayed its arrival.

The attacks prevented , who was in Kenya at the time to advocate for the deployment, from returning to Haiti. He resigned in late April as the violence escalated. Subsequently, a nine-member transitional presidential council selected former U.N. official Conille as prime minister and appointed a new Cabinet in mid-June.

However, the gang violence persists, and experts warn that it will continue unless the government also addresses socioeconomic factors that fuel the existence of gangs in a deeply impoverished country with a severely understaffed and under-resourced police department.

Le Cour acknowledged that predicting the gangs’ response to the mission is challenging. “Some might engage in combat. Others might seek negotiations and open dialogue with the Haitian government,” he suggested.

In a recent video, Jimmy Chérizier, a former elite police officer who now leads a powerful gang federation known as G9 Family and Allies, addressed the new prime minister for the first time.

“Do not succumb to the influence of traditional politicians and businessmen, who have exploited violence for political and economic gain,” said Chérizier, better known as Barbecue. “The current crisis can only be resolved through dialogue.”

When asked about Barbecue’s remarks on Tuesday, Conille responded with a message of his own: “Lay down your arms and acknowledge the authority of the state, and then we will see what steps we take.”

The U.N. Security Council authorized Kenya to lead the multinational police mission in October 2023, a year after Henry first requested immediate assistance.

President Joe Biden commended the arrival of the initial contingent, stating that the mission as a whole “will provide much-needed relief.”

“The people of Haiti deserve to feel safe in their homes, build better lives for their families, and enjoy democratic freedoms,” he said. “While these goals may not be achieved overnight, this mission offers the best chance of attaining them.”

Rights groups and others have raised concerns about the use of Kenyan police, highlighting years of allegations against officers of abuses, including extrajudicial killings. On Tuesday, police were once again accused of opening fire in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, where thousands of protesters stormed the parliament.

Kenyan police in Haiti will be joined by police from the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin, Chad, and Jamaica, totaling 2,500 officers. They will be deployed in phases at an annual cost of approximately $600 million, according to the U.N. Security Council.

To date, the U.N.-administered fund for the mission has received only $18 million in contributions from Canada, France, and the United States. The U.S. has also pledged a total of $300 million in support.

“While gang violence appears to have subsided from its peak earlier this year, the country’s security situation remains dire,” the U.N. Security Council stated in a June 21 declaration.

Over 2,500 individuals were killed or injured in the first three months of this year, representing an increase of over 50% from the same period last year.

Fear pervades the lives of many Haitians, including Jannette Oville, a 54-year-old mother of two university-age sons. She sells crops such as plantains and green peppers, and gangs have robbed her multiple times while she travels aboard public buses with her goods. She conceals money in her armpit or underwear as a safety measure, she said.

“I need security. I need to work. I need the roads to reopen so that I can provide for my family,” she said. “Being a female entrepreneur in Haiti is never easy. There are many risks. But we take those risks to ensure our families’ well-being.”

An estimated 1.6 million Haitians are on the verge of starvation, the highest number recorded since the devastating 2010 earthquake, according to the U.N.