How Prioritizing Closure of IDP Camps Aids and Abets Illegal and Forcible Evictions

How Prioritizing Closure of IDP Camps Aids and Abets Illegal and Forcible Evictions
January 31, 2012 Christian Wisskirchen

How Prioritizing Closure of IDP Camps Aids and Abets Illegal and Forcible Evictions

Mark Snyder, International Action Ties

Months have passed since the forty-three displaced families of the camp Barbancort 17 were  drawn with false promises from the land they had stayed on since the January 12, 2010 earthquake with a proposed option of an alternative settlement. The camp had been facing months of threats of forceful eviction from a man claiming to be the land owner. But the purported land owner did not deceive the internally displaced persons (IDPs) to push them from the land. The perpetrator of deceit was the leading agency for coordination and management people, the International Organization on Migration (IOM).

The IOM convinced IDPs to pack their things and leave in rented buses for a long and disappointing trip, that ended with them sleeping on the ground outside a police station. In doing so IOM side-stepped Haitian law and ignored the Guiding Principles of Internal Displacement. Is IOM acting as the world’s leading international organization for migration and “uphold[ing] the human dignity and well-being of migrants”1 by “spreading best practices”2? Or are they complicit in forced evictions, and encouraging other humanitarian actors to be similarly complacent?

 “I now have a good tent and no land to place it on.”

By the 28th of September, yet another date set for eviction of Camp Barbacourt 17 by the purported owner of the land had arrived. During previous threats, human right lawyer Mario Joseph advised the IDPs to return to their tarp and scrap sheet metal shelters so as to not be locked out from their camp. This has proven to be a effective measure of passive resistance from the IDPs during previous attemps of illegal eviction for this camp and others. The action is undertaken with the intention of insisting that those attempting to forcefully evict displaced earthquake victims from public or private property will have to follow Haitian law and utilize the justice system, i.e. respect their rights.

Often, those claiming to own land do not have the proper title for the property in question. It has been estimated that in as much as 70% of forced eviction cases, the land claims are disputale.3 At the Justice of the Peace, where eviction cases have been challenged by Haitian human rights groups, the lack of a legitimate title would lead to a ruling favorable for the displaced. Utilization of the legal system is not only just, but it has also proven to be of the most effective means of protecting the vulnerable displaced population against being displaced once again; protection which is a stated priority4 Unfortunately, the lack of title has also served as an incentive for those claiming the land to illegally remove the IDPs with only a minimal amount of attention from the media or interference from the justice system.

One would expect the utilization of the Haitian justice system to be the foundation of proper response to forced evictions of IDPs.  We have seen successes through these measures from the two major Haitian anti-eviction initiatives, through the Bureau de Advocat Internasyonal (BAI, The Office of International Lawyers) and Fos Refleksyon ak Aksyon sou Koze Kay (FRAKKA, a Right-to-Housing Collective). But on the morning of September 28th, the forty-three families of Barbancort 17 learned IOM, the main international organization claiming to mediate threats of forceful eviction of IDPs, had other plans for them.

After failed negotiations with the purported land owner, IOM arrived with 4 buses and one large box truck. IOM’s representatives claimed they had arranged to relocate the families to another camp. The IDPs were instructed to pack their belonging into a large box truck and leave the encampment where they had resided with minimal NGO/GOH assistance since the January 12, 2010 earthquake. The IDPs were persuaded to leave the camp under what turned out to be false promises.

The families from camp Barbancort 17 were taken to Camp Refugee, on the Eastern outskirts of the Delmas commune of Port au Prince. Though IOM later claimed that they had prior approval from Camp Refugee, over twenty different families and camp committee members from Camp Refugee stated they had no prior knowledge of their camp being used for a relocation. They explained they already had inadequate space, latrines that had been installed in May of 2010 and were no longer functioning (leaving them to relieve themselves into plastic bags and disposing them in a ravine to the east of the camp), and no free water distribution. Because of these conditions and a fear of who was being brought into their community, they stated the camp was unable to accommodate the 43 additional families.

Interviewed a week after the incident, individuals from Camp Refugee expressed remorse and stated that they knew what it was like to be evicted and then displaced again. Their camp had been partially evicted in April of 2010 when a relocation camp was being developed for the displaced families being evicted from the grounds of Haiti’s most prestigious school, San Louise Gonzague.5 They were the victims of violent coercion, death threats, and Haitian Government bulldozers which ran over their makeshift shelters.

The camps in this area were well aware of their exclusion from the different facets of the disaster response. One example occurred during the same day of the above mentioned eviction. While bulldozers destroyed tents, the Red Cross was placing wrist bands on the IDPs that they called forward from an encircling crowd. The Red Cross refused to say for what reason these people were “being tagged” or what they may recieve for wearing the wristband. Now again, with the relocation of an evicted camp, they were left in the dark.

Numerous individuals interviewed from Camp Refugee stated that they felt the situation with the Barbancort 17 IDPs could have been different had they been notified prior to the arrival of the evicted camp on the morning of the 28th. But the lack of prior coordination and participation with two groups of the IDPs led to misunderstanding, a brief shouting match, and camp Barbancort 17 climbed on the IOM buses once again to search for other options.

IOM then brought the families to a large church in Piblen where request were made for the families to stay the night. The church representatives refused. Finally, the Barbancourt IDPs were driven to the Ft. Demach Haitian National Police (PNH) station, located on one of PaP’s main thoroughfares, Delmas 33. IOM’s representatives stated to the author that the decision to drop the families off at the police station was made by the Mayor of Delmas, Wilson Juedy, who was roundly criticized months earlier for sending a municipal force to violently evict and destroy camps located at Delmas 3 and Karfou Aeropot.6

After following the directives of the Mayor, IOM then decided to leave the choice of what to do with the families themselves; they could sleep on the ground or on the buses.

That evening and the next morning family members made their way back to the Barbancort 17 camp only to find the large door at the entrance of the land locked shut. The purported land owner felt his IDP problems had been solved.7 The IDPs reassembled on the road outside of the land where the camp had been located. Some stayed in broken down vehicles that awaited repair, others squatted in the roofless shell of unfinished cinder block homes. Many arranged makeshift shelters in alleyways from scraps of tarp and other material they could find.

When the IDPs contacted members of the anti-eviction initiatives and explained what occurred, the neglect seemed too obscene to believe, even for IOM who’s reputation among the displaced is far from perfect. Working in the camps, one can often hear the frustration of residents who perceive the IOM as “doing nothing” and “only passing by.” But the claims by the IDPs of Barbancort were confirmed by IOM’s camp management team. Camp Management Officer (CMO) leadership assured a human rights worker who had inquired that IOM was doing all it could to fix the situation. But for over a month since the families began sleeping in the street, after IOM effectively assisted in their eviction, no observable action to rectify the situiaton had been taken.

On October 12th, a full two weeks after the IOM cleared the camp, the IOM camp management team called for a meeting with the evicted IDPs from Barbancort 17 at a property on Delmas 19. Having lost faith in IOM’s intentions, camp leadership requested that members of the BAI anti-eviction initiative participate. The meeting opened with an IOM representative complaining that the IOM CMO team said they would only meet with three people and twelve (5 women/7 men) had arrived to discuss their relocation. The IDPs were told that the land was arranged with the mayor of Delmas for them to stay on for three months. Promises of latrines and water were made, though lacking in specifics (i.e. Who would desludge the portable latrines? Who would provide water?).

Observing the meeting, one could see that it was not meant to be inclusive of the opinions of Haitian IDPs. There was another example of a group with material and political capital dictating what would become of the lives of the poor.  The meeting quickly degraded to a yelling match between frustrated IDPs and defensive IOM representatives (those that could speak Kreyol). It concluded with some of the IDPs believing there was a possibility for them on the property. Others stating they felt IOM had no intentions to help them -rather, for the IOM, the closed camp represented a problem solved.

An additional two weeks passed before the IDPs of Camp Barbancort 17 were informed that the land in Delmas 19 was no longer an option for them. They had been on the street as a direct result of IOM’s actions for nearly a month at this point. The families were angry and discouraged at their situation. On October 25th, IOM delivered tents to ten families, the next day delivering two more. The IDPs reported that they were told that this was all the additional help that IOM could provide. One discouraged woman from the camp, Nadege, said while staring at the rolled up tent, “I now have a good tent and no land to place it on.”

When the IOM CMO was contacted by the author on October 29th, he confirmed that the land was no longer available and that they were giving the tents to the families to relieve their situation. Thirty-eight in total were given. Delmas Mayor Wilson Jeudy was said to be making the decisions for the camp from here on; the IDPs again removed from any part of the process.

“Serious risk of human rights violations”

We can acknowledge the situation with the displacement camps are layered with complexity, as all human interaction tends to be. But this can not be used as an excuse to ignore some of the most basic standards that have been set forth by the experts on the subject of displacement.

The post earthquake displacement encampments quickly became a very difficult reality for the families who must reside in them. As the United Nations independent expert on internal displacement, Walter Kalin, has stated, “Experience from other natural disasters teaches us that there is a serious risk of human rights violations when the displaced cannot return to their homes or find new ones after some weeks or months. In the context of natural disasters, discrimination and violations of economic, social and cultural rights can become more entrenched the longer displacement lasts.” 8

Note that Dr.Kalin referenced the time frame of “weeks or months.” The displaced from Haiti’s earthquake have faced two full years in the encampments. They face an imported cholera epidemic often with no water or sanitation services provided. The weak transitional shelter programs have left most under ripped tarps and scraps of material; exposed to the unforgiving tropical elements. Today, the discrimination and violations of rights that Dr. Kalin warns of can be witnessed in nearly every one of the 801 camps that remain.9

Camp closure has been stated as the priority in OCHA cluster meetings since early 2010. This has set policy and is used as a measure of success. Though the camps should be closed, the race to zero camps left in Haiti is blinding the organizations to the harm-producing precedents they are setting in disaster response. Improperly and hastily closing a camp, whether by eviction, through small coercive payments for people to leave, or via an incomplete relocation program does not represent harm recuction or “building back better.” The consequences of the catastrophic initial displacement are simply transferred or magnified in other settings and left to fester.

When an influential inter-government organization such as IOM creates policy that places power in the hands of the purported landowners during evictions, side-stepping Haitian law and the rights of the IDPs, a pattern of recurring crisis is bound to emerge, be it after a failed negotiation or after a “successful” three month extension for the IDPs before the next threats of eviction begin.

“The system must change”

Though a complex situation, there are relatively simple solutions that can be implemented. For the international community and other authorities responding to the ongoing disaster, this begins with adhering to the Guiding Principles of Internal Displacement. Though the Principles are not a binding instrument, they do reflect and are consistent with existing international law.10

The Guiding Principles were referenced by the head of the UN’s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) in Haiti, Nigel Fisher, after an eviction took place in Port au Prince at Camp Silvio Cator at the hands of Haitian authorities in early September. He stated “the humanitarian community in Haiti reiterates its opposition to forced evictions, which only exacerbate existing vulnerabilities of camp populations,” and “it recalls that eviction of displaced persons without adequate housing alternatives is a violation of their rights, as outlined in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.”11

Mr. Fisher has failed to offer such advice to the IOM after removing the displaced families from Barbancort 17, leading them into even more vulnerable conditions. Independent UN expert on human rights in Haiti, Michel Forst, had “urged that the police receive clear instructions not to support the forced eviction of people living in formal and informal camps, outside of procedures established by Haitian law, regardless of whether camps are on public or private land.12 He should deliver the same clear instruction to IOM.

Though the eviction of Silvio Cator also violated the rights of the IDPs, they at the very least received minimal funding and another plot of land for resettlement. Those evicted from Barbancort 17 were not provided such “luxuries.” For months, many resided scattered on the street and now have moved into other camps. Failing to address the violations perpetrated by IOM encourages other organizations that follow their standard. This is not insigificant considering that IOM was given responsibility of OCHA’s main coordination tool in the disaster response, the Camp Coordination Camp Management (CCCM) cluster.

As explained by the UN’s independent IDP expert Walter Kalin, ” Often, these violations are not consciously planned and instigated but result from inappropriate policies. They could, therefore, be easily avoided if the relevant human rights guarantees were taken into account from the outset.”13

Acknowledging a severe problem such as evictions is of the utmost importance to begin the discussion that will lead to altering broken policies. But the September 11, 2011 OCHA Humanitarian Bulletin, a main source of information for organizations responding to the disaster14 did not even contain the word “eviction” or make any reference to the issue – despite one in every four camps is under threat of eviction according to reports.15

IOM’s bimonthly Displacement Tracking Matrix 16 summary for September 2011 only contained the word “eviction” a single time in the following paragraph:

“Of the sites that were identified as closed for this period (97 sites), the most common reasons reported included: 1) evictions (15 sites); 2) return or relocation support was provided (13 sites). However, for this period most sites were identified as empty upon time of assessments and no additional information was available regarding the reasons for closure (69 sites).”17

Evictions being the number one reason for camp closures is disturbing. Even more disturbing is the unknown fate of the 69 sites that were closed without explanation. They vanished without a trace and the where abouts of the IDPs are unknown.  OCHA appears to see these closures as solutions to the IDP issue – additional camps to check off the list for their countdown to zero.

IOM produced a flow chart for themselves and other organizations to follow during threats of eviction. Human right lawyers with the two Haitian anti-eviction initiatives have pointed out that these place far too much power in the hands of those claiming to own the land by allowing them to forgo the judiciary process and enter directly into negotiations with the NGOs.

Insisting on the utilization of the Haitian justice system must remain a cornerstone for all those working with displaced individuals facing eviction, similiar to what UN independent human rights expert Walter Kalin advised to the Hatian National Police. Dealing with alleged land owners extra-legally affords them undue advantage in the negotiation process. After all, they tend to have more capital and political clout than IDPs. Working with the justice system encourages adherence to specific laws that protect all rights, including those of the most vulnerable.

While there are references to the need for participation of the IDPs in settlement choices, they have rarely amounted to more than lip service. Meetings are conducted in languages in which they do not speak or in gated-off offices that are inaccessible to the public. Negotiation of these kinds undermine IDPs’ ability to defend their own rights. As the BAI and FRAKKA anti-eviction initiatives have proven, IDP participation is not only just, but is the only way to have successes in preventing evictions in a manner that builds rather than pulls apart communities.

The two initiatives also show that the inclusion of IDPs is a time-consuming, human process. Active participation and community determined action requires hours of meetings, building trusting relationships, and attention to cultural differences. Aid workers have to let go of their egos and let the displaced take the lead. This will no doubt take alot of work on all sides.

When IDP Kazo “Junior” Dieuliphete was asked about what needed to be done he quickly replied, “IOM has stolen the rights and the conscious of the Haitian displaced. For them to repair what they have destroyed, they must work with the internally displaced people to change the actions of the Haitian Government and the NGO’s. The NGOs and the UN have made a true mess in the camps. The system must change”

Perhaps organizations like the IOM do not respect IDP voices because they don’t believe, in the end, that the IDP’s right can be fully realized. Or perhaps they fear that they will, which will mean that the camps must remain for a longer period of time while proper solutions are found. This would remove the frequently referenced lone “positive” from the disaster response18, the decreasing numbers in the camps; the race to zero.

posted 30-01-2012

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