Landowners try to evict Refugee Camps

Landowners try to evict Refugee Camps
July 2, 2010 anne mcconnell
landowners

4293702381_4450e48015_mNewbeat photo/Flikr

Landowners try to evict Refugee Camps, (Christian Science Monitor, July 2, 2010)

Still homeless from Haiti earthquake, thousands fight forced evictions. Six months on, the government has yet to secure adequate shelter for many of the 2.1 million people made homeless by the Haiti earthquake. Some landowners are now trying to evict the refugee camps.

By Alice Speri

Port-au-Prince – Tens of thousands of Haitians risk becoming
homeless for a second time, as weary landowners clear their properties
of makeshift refugee camps in order to build new homes or sell their
land on Haiti’s booming real-estate market.

Of 1,241 refugee camps here, only 206 are officially recognized,
according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
(OCHA). Only the official camps are monitored by NGOs, meaning that the
majority lack protection.

“Nobody is really watching,” says Deepa Pachang, a volunteer with
International Action Ties, a nonprofit organization monitoring illegal
evictions. “Sometimes authorities show up at a camp and all the people
are already gone.”

This past spring, the government Commission of Damage Assessment,
Temporary Shelter, Demolition and Reconstruction reportedly identified
several sites totaling 6 million square meters (some 1,500 acres) for
relocating people to the perimeters of the capital. Lengthy
negotiations to secure the land have yet to secure relocation options
for the 2.1 million people left homeless from the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Now, forced evictions from refugee camps are on the rise, officials
say. With landowners exasperated by the slow pace, some are taking
matters into their own hands.

Ralph Stevens Stephen, godson of the landowner of a property in the
Delmas 60 neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, which has been used as an
unofficial refugee camp since January, recently visited the camp with
10 armed men in police uniforms to coerce the 178 homeless people here
to leave.

“This is private land, these people have to take off,” Mr. Stephen
says. He says he has been telling residents to leave since April, and
he is convinced that most squatters would go home if they weren’t
trying to get compensation from the government. “The government doesn’t
owe anything to these people,” he says.

Resident Oxeana Ismael remembers the day that the armed men showed up –
with no official identification and driving unmarked cars – and
threatened to return with tear gas if the homeless did not leave within
15 days. That was in early June.

“They asked me if I live here, and told me that I have to take down my
tent and go,” says the middle-aged woman, who since January has shared
a makeshift shelter here with five relatives, including her mentally
disabled brother. She and several other residents say the men pointed
their weapons at those present and asked for their names.

Subsequently, Haiti’s Ministry of Justice and Public Security issued a
report that said a number of the Delmas camp residents “declared they
were ready to leave the property by June 22,” according to a copy
obtained by the Monitor.

But residents say they never volunteered to leave, as they have nowhere
to go. The camp committee says only 14 of the camps’ 44 families were
homeowners before the earthquake, and all their houses were either
damaged or destroyed. Of the 188,383 destroyed or damaged homes, only
66,967 have been assessed for safety so far, according to OCHA. Of
these, 42 percent have been deemed safe for reoccupation, but only half
of those have actually been reoccupied, mainly because people no longer
have money to rent.

As episodes of violent eviction have been reported at some refugee
camps, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN’s
monitor on housing issues, has played mediator between landowners and
camp residents.

“If we are aware of one, we try to reach a compromise with the owners,”
says IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle, citing one successful case.

Mr. Doyle says he is currently aware of about 30 camps that have been
forcibly evicted or are at risk of imminent eviction, though he says
details are sketchy.

“We haven’t heard of violence, but we did hear of armed groups entering
camps,” he says. “I can’t say how that’s related to evictions, but I
can make an educated guess.”

Haitian National Police spokesman Franz Koloeur says he has not heard
of a violent expulsion in a “long” time and that most cases of threats
and complaints are reported as simple “arguments” and dealt with by
local police precincts. He says all expulsions must be first authorized
by a court, although even a three-week government moratorium on forced
evictions in April did little, if anything, to slow the problem.

“People can’t make their own justice, people can’t expel other people
themselves,” he says. “If an owner uses weapons or threats, they will
have problems with the police themselves.”

Haiti’s Ministry of Interior declined to comment.

At the refugee camp in the Delmas 60 neighborhood, 10 families have
already left due to intimidation, but most residents don’t know where
to go.

“They told us to go back to our homes, but we have no homes,” says
Jireau Museau, a member of the camp committee, who lost his house and
grocery store in the earthquake. He and other residents must use
toilets in a nearby settlement because nearby homeowners prevented NGOs
from building latrines on the property. “If we had another place to go,
we would have left already,” he says.

As of Friday, camp residents were still on the property, but many say
this won’t last long. The property owner threatened to evict them this
week.

Standing by her tent as the daily rain started, Ms. Ismael says she is
just waiting.

“If they come back,” she says, “I’ll just move right out of the camp
and stay on the road.”

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2010/0702/Still-homeless-from-Haiti-earthquake-thousands-fight-forced-evictions

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