June 8th, 2011
Evicting The Homeless From Haiti’s Tent Camps

On May 23 of this year, two bulldozers and two truckloads of armed men arrived at Delmas, a self-governed district inside the capital of Port-au-Prince. Within minutes, the armed men slashed through roofs with machetes, and the bulldozers smashed almost 200 families’ homes.

A few residents of the internally displaced persons (IDP) camp tried to protect their homes and belongings. But the men arrested them and beat up others. They then took away the survivors’ few material possessions, leaving behind only destruction, confusion, and sadness.

A few days later, on May 25, this happened again at two other displacement camps in Delmas. The culprits were not criminals or gang members, but rather members of the Delmas security force. Even more surprising, these employees destroyed the internal refugees’ homes at the mayor’s request.

Mayor Wilson Jeudi announced in an interview with a local newspaper that this was his campaign to “clean” all public spaces of camp dwellers. He said the camps were disorderly, and that the residents could no longer “privatize” the public streets. These people were victims of natural disaster, housed in tents at the international community’s request, and left without any long-term resettlement plans. But Mayor Jeudi will not offer the now 1,000 homeless people compensation; he says, “We were all victims of the earthquake.”

After the large-scale assault, Haitian organizations and camp committees immediately protested. The coalition recently sponsored a number of events to demand rights for those living in IDP camps. The Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) even sued the Mayor on June 1 for evicting these residents illegally. This public interest law firm claims that the evictions violate the residents’ right to life and housing protected by the constitution.

A few representatives in Washington have also spoken out against these egregious violations of human rights. Representatives Donald M. Payne, Yvette Clark, Fredericka Wilson, and Maxine Waters said in a statement, “Facing hostile conditions, including adverse weather, violence, and disease, shelter and work are the priorities for every displaced Haitian and must not be compromised.”

But this attack was nowhere near an isolated incident. In fact, the International Organization on Migration determined that as of this April, 166,000 people face impending threats of eviction. Many worry that without long-term relocation plans in place, evictions will become the sole solution to clearing the camps.

Indeed, as attorney with the non-profit group Defenders of the Oppressed Patrice Florvilus expressed in an interview, while new President Michel Martelly promised to have camp residents out of tents in six months, “he must now clarify if this was the formula he had in mind for accomplishing that end.” For more context on the issues facing Haitian refugees, see my previous post about problems in Haiti’s tent refugee camps.

Follow Nicole Kreisberg on Twitter at @NicoKrei

[Photo By Lee Cohen]

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