A Haitian gang is demanding a $1 million ransom per person to release seventeen missionaries from the U.S., according to an official in the Haitian government.

Seventeen people, adults and children from 3 months to 48 years old, were in Haiti with the religious mission group Christian Aid Ministries. The group is currently involved in rebuilding after the August 14th earthquake that did so much damage to the island nation. On Tuesday, they were returning from a visit to a temporary orphanage when they vanished.

Shortly after the group failed to check in with their companions, the Haitian gang 400 Mawozo called a ministry leader to tell them that they had the missing missionaries and demanded the ransom.

Unrest in Haiti has been on a meteoric rise in the past several years. After a major earthquake in 2011, rebuilding efforts stalled due to a combination of lack of funds and infrastructure corruption. Many have been without access to power, water, or sewage for a decade. The pandemic made the situation much direr. Poor-faith elections, health care fraud, and a presidential assassination in July had already destabilized the country before the second major earthquake this August.

In recent months, a wave of kidnappings and the resultant protest strike have added even more pressure. Foreign aid workers, such as doctors and volunteers, have been the primary targets.

“Kidnapping is widespread and victims regularly include US citizens. We know these groups target U.S. citizens who they assume have the resources and finances to pay ransoms, even if that is not the case,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki in a morning statement about the kidnapping. She notes that the U.S. government has urged citizens not to visit Haiti.

Of the seventeen people kidnapped, 16 are Americans and 1 is Canadian. The same gang kidnapped and released ten people from another religious group earlier this year, all of whom were released unharmed.

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