(Reuters) - Haitians continue to flee their country amid gang violence that has left much of the Caribbean nation off limits to the government. Kidnappings have become increasingly frequent and gunbattles between police and crime groups a routine occurrence.
Haiti has around 200 gangs of varying size that have become de facto authorities in large parts of the capital Port-au-Prince and are immersed in illegal activities ranging from extortion to drug trafficking.
HOW DO GANGS AFFECT THE LIVES OF HAITIANS?
Gangs in Haiti have created "no-go" zones where travel is prohibitively dangerous, led to de facto curfews due to residents' fear of being out after dark, and forced many businesses to close their doors due to violence or extortion.
Bloody turf battles this year have killed hundreds of people and forced thousands of others out of their homes.
The G9 coalition of gangs starting in September blocked the entrance to Haiti's primary fuel terminal for nearly six weeks, creating crippling shortages of diesel and gasoline and forcing businesses and hospitals to shut their doors.
The group's leader, Jimmy "Barbecue" Cherizier, is a former police officer who has been the target of sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department for his role in a 2018 massacre.
Haitian police took back control of the terminal in November.
HOW HAS THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY RESPONDED?
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres proposed a "rapid action force" to confront the gangs, and the United States and Mexico proposed a security mission that would be led by an unnamed "partner country".
But most countries remain skeptical of a role in any military intervention in Haiti, noting that previous efforts such as a 2004-2017 U.N.-backed peacekeeping force did not yield sustained improvements in security.
Canada and the United States have instead imposed sanctions on Haitian politicians and business leaders accused of financing the gangs for economic and political benefit.
WHO IS BEING SANCTIONED?
Canada on Monday froze the assets of three high-profile business leaders - Gilbert Bigio, Sherif Abdallah and Reynold Deeb - on accusations that they are linked to gangs.
Bigio, considered one of Haiti's wealthiest citizens, is the chairman of industrial conglomerate GB Group, whose activities range from construction to finance, according to GB's website.
Abdallah is president of Haitian insurance firm Les Assurances Leger S.A., according to the company's website.
Deeb is an executive at Deka Group, according to two Haitian sources with knowledge of the firm. Deka describes itself on LinkedIn as an importer, manufacturer and retailer of consumer goods.
None of the three men or their companies have responded to Reuters requests for comment.
The United States and Canada in November sanctioned a senator and a former senator, and Canada sanctioned former President Michel Martelly and two former prime ministers on suspicion of links to gangs.
WHAT DOES THE U.S. GOVERNMENT'S EXTENSION OF TPS MEAN FOR HAITIANS?
The Biden administration on Dec. 5 expanded deportation relief and access to work permits for Haitians who are already in the United States, offering Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to an estimated 264,000 Haitians.
That will allow some Haitians to avoid being deported, in a recognition of the ongoing severe security threats in their homeland.
But the United States intercepts Haitian migrants at sea. The Coast Guard typically returns those migrants to Haiti.
WHY ARE THE GANGS SO POWERFUL?
Haitian gangs have expanded their control over the country's territory since the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise.
The killing, which involved Colombian mercenaries, created a power vacuum. Prime Minister Ariel Henry has governed on an interim basis since, even though the constitution calls for both a president and prime minister.
In 2010, Haiti was devastated by a massive earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people, left 1.5 million people homeless and destroyed key government offices in Port-au-Prince.
(Reporting by Harold Isaac in Port-au-Prince and Brian Ellsworth in Miami, editing by Mark Heinrich)