OCHA White Washes Forced Evictions as New Threats Loom

May 25, 2012

As previously mentioned, a release from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) this week makes an important call for renewed efforts to combat cholera as infections rise with the rainy season. But further on, the release states that “[OCHA’s Director of Operations John] Ging also visited the Champs de Mars camp for internally displaced people (IDPs), where the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is supporting voluntary return of IDPs.”

But the movement of IDPs out of such camps is often not “voluntary.” This has been the case in Champs de Mars as in many other IDP camps. Stuart Neatby wrote in an article for Canada’s Embassy magazine last month:

Port-au-Prince’s Champ de Mars camp, the most visible of the hundreds of remaining camps of Haitians rendered homeless by the 2010 earthquake, saw its first set of forced evictions on April 4.

The tent camp in Haiti’s capital city fills the central plaza across the street from the collapsed National Palace, a key government building that used to house the office of Haiti’s president.

About 21 camp residents, including [Narcysse] Lud, woke up on March 29 to find their names on a notice warning that their makeshift shelters would be torn down. They were told they had three days to pick up all of their belongings and clear out of the camp.

The International Organization for Migration, which had maintained a census of camp residents, claimed that those to be evicted had not been within the camp during the last head count. As a result, the IOM said, the residents had no claim to stay in Champ de Mars, and the eviction was legal.

Days later, residents could only watch as local municipal workers dismantled and carted away the bits of tarp, plywood, and corrugated sheet metal that had served as their homes. Haitian National Police members, UN soldiers, and UN police officials oversaw the evictions.

Neatby notes further on that “Evicted residents interviewed had a variety of reasons for not being in the camp that night, ranging from hospital stays to visits to family.” (A response from the IOM’s Leonard Doyle is posted below the text of the article on Embassy’s website.)

Ging’s comments are especially troubling as the residents of at least two camps – Grace Village in Carrefour, and Camp Mormon in Delmas – are currently under threat of forced eviction. Amnesty International, which describes forced evictions in its 2011 human rights report on Haiti, issued an alert on May 21 that states:

Residents of Camp Mormon in the municipality of Delmas in Port-au-Prince are at imminent risk of forced eviction. Camp residents told Amnesty International delegates that at 3 am on 14 May, approximately 20 men, including local municipal officials, entered the camp and warned them that they would be forcibly evicted in 15 days time if they did not vacate the land. Some of the men were armed and they opened fire on a group of camp residents, four of whom sustained injuries whilst trying to run for cover. Prior to this incident, residents of Camp Mormon have received numerous threats of eviction and of violence if they did not comply. On 8 February, local municipal officials accompanied by armed men threatened to burn down the camp and shoot residents if they did not leave. Camp residents have filed complaints at the Prosecutor’s Office in relation to both these incidents.

No court order for the eviction or any other legal notice has ever been presented and there has been no adequate consultation with the families or any offer of provision of alternative housing. The residents of Camp Mormon live in improvised shelters, and the camp has poor sanitary conditions and no running water. The camp’s population includes a number of women who are pregnant or have recently given birth, and the majority of families are headed by women.

The alert also states that residents of neighboring Camp Mozayik were already forcibly evicted this month:

At around 4pm on 4 May, all 126 families who lived in neighbouring Camp Mozayik were forcibly evicted by local municipal authorities, without any due process and without being offered any alternative accommodation. Amnesty International is seriously concerned that the same fate awaits the families of Camp Mormon.

(Camp Mozayik was located across the street from a development site where the Arcotec company is planning a 10-story commercial property with an underground parking garage — the “Genesis Project”.)

This alert came only days after Amnesty International, IJDH, BAI, and others raised the alarm about the imminent threat to residents of Camp Grace. Amnesty’s alert May 15 (PDF) read:

Residents at Grace Village camp, in the Carrefour area of Metropolitan Port-au-Prince are at imminent risk of forced eviction. At least 30 families have already been forcibly evicted, after their shelters and belongings were destroyed during the night of 28 April. They were forced to leave their properties without any due process and without being offered any alternative accommodation.

On 14 May, when Amnesty International delegates visited the camp, at least 40 more shelters had been marked for demolition. There is no court order to legalise the imminent eviction and the affected families have not been consulted or offered alternative housing.

Since the camp was established after the 2010 earthquake, a man claiming to be the landowner has opposed the distribution of humanitarian assistance to inhabitants. In the camp there is a total lack of drinking water, sanitation services and waste disposal. As a result, two children are currently undergoing treatment for cholera in hospital.

The landowner strictly restricts the freedom of movement of the camp inhabitants by imposing a night-time curfew and forcing all adult residents to carry an entry permit issued by him. Camp residents told Amnesty International that security guards regularly threaten and beat residents, and sexually harass women and that police officers from Carrefour district support the landowner in terrorising Grace Village residents. The judicial authorities have been informed about the acts of violence but until now they have failed to ensure the protection of the camp inhabitants.

Ging’s release adds: “Out of the 1.5 million people displaced by the 2010 earthquake, nearly 1.1 million Haitians have now returned home.”

But the idea that IDPs often have suitable homes to which they can return is a frequent myth, one that is harmful to IDPs but convenient for the Haitian government and other authorities, and the IOM – all of whom want the camps cleared.

As anthropologist Mark Schuller, film maker Michele Mitchell, and many other researchers, NGOs and agencies have shown, conditions in the great majority of camps are deplorable. Far from remaining in camps in order to take advantage of services, many camp residents do not receive any services at all. OCHA reported in February that only 3 percent of households in IDP camps were receiving water from NGOs, with almost half of the water tested being “of poor quality”. After conducting surveys, Schuller found that “30 percent of the camps didn’t have a toilet.” Of those that did, they might have “5,000 people with six toilets between them,” as Michele Mitchell says she discovered in making her film.

IDP rights advocate Mark Snyder suggests the lack of service provision is sometimes a deliberate policy choice. He sums up IOM and their partners’ position as “we don’t want to make it too comfortable for the people in the camps or they will never leave.” NGO’s such as CARE have cited (PDF) “minimiz[ing] the incentive to remain in the camps” in scaling back services. In this way IOM, Haitian authorities, NGOs, UN agencies, and other members of the Shelter Cluster blur the line between what is “voluntary” and what is “coerced.” “Try living in a tent for a day,” IOM spokesperson Leonard Doyle is quoted as saying in Neatby’s article. “Who wouldn’t want to move out of there in a hurry?”

Perhaps it has been frustrating for the IOM and others seeking to clear the camps that so many IDPs continue to stay in the camps even when conditions are so wretched, but it is probably the IDPs who are more unhappy.

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