Paying off the Internally Displaced: Haiti’s Acceptable Forced Evictions?
By: Mark Snyder and Markenson Bellevue
Tarp and scrap metal shelters of Haiti’s earthquake survivors were destroyed and removed over the past several days, reminiscent of forced evictions carried out by the Mayor of Delmasand his private employees in May 2011. This time the forced removal of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) is ostensibly happening with the consent of those that have lived in the shelters for the past eighteen months. But are these just more illegal forced evictions at the hands of government officials with a thin venear of legitimacy?
The displaced families living in the camp located in the parking lot of the Sylvio Cator soccer stadium were offered $250 U.S. (10,000 Haitian gourdes) by the office of Mayor Jean-Yves Jason to leave and not return. They were given limited options upon departure from Haiti’s National Stadium and have yet to be registered with the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) system for tracking the displaced (DTM, or Displaced Tracking Matrix). Families who accepted the plan to leave the camp were registered by Civil Protection workers and given a voucher for payment. They quickly packed their few belongings as their shelters were destroyed.
The small stipend provided wouldn’t be adequate to rent appropriate safe housing – not even a room could be rented for such a small amount of money – nor would it ensure that the IDP families would find acceptable alternatives. When asked where they would go, the majority stated they would have to find another camp or open land, and many just answered that they did not yet know but would go into the street to seek options.
While it is true the majority of the 514 displaced families in the camp did agree to leave and find their own solutions after recieving the payment, it is necessary to look closely at their situation, consider the context, and then ask: was this truly a voluntary process?
On Tuesday, July 12, Mayor Jason reportedly entered the camp and informed the families living in the stadium parking lot that they would have to leave by Friday, July 15. They had the option of leaving voluntary or being forcibly (and likely violently) evicted. The Mayor’s threat to use force resonated deeply with these families who have already been victims of a forced eviciton. On April 9, 2010, the Haitian National Police (PNH) entered the stadium without warning and forcibly removed the 7,335 people that had sought safety there after the earthquake. During interviews conducted on April 12, 2010 by three members of the human rights group International Action Ties, victims of the forced eviction reported suffering physical violence, theft and destruction of property, followed by continuing verbal threats. Most of these families were displaced into the parking lot of the stadium and have remained there until now.
Rumors, questions, and fear ran heavy in the camp. After the Mayor failed to show up for a scheduled meeting with camp representatives on July 13, 2011, many of the displaced stated that they felt they were going to be removed at the hands of the PNH or UN troops, and that the promise of a meeting to discuss the plans for the camp was only political grandstanding. When the mayor did attend the rescheduled meeting during the early evening of July 14, only half of a day prior to the date of eviction, his representatives only allowed five of the camp committee members to participate. A tight security detail was present to ensure the meeting was kept private. Security would not allow for any audio or photographic recording of the meeting. When a human rights monitor, whose participation was requested by the camp committee, pointed out that the Mayor held a public office and that the meeting was of public concern, private security officers stated: “He is not in a public position right now.”
During this meeting, the Mayor offered an unspecified amount of money to families that would willingly leave the camp and seek their own solutions. Those that remained in the camp would be relocated to one of up to five supposed new displacement camps that were said to be in the preparation process. The exact locations of all but one of these camps is unknown, and most basic necessities such as water and latrines were not guaranteed. Following the private meeting, Mayor Jason stood atop a concrete road divider to address the residents of the camp. Without amplification, the vast majority of camp residents were unable to hear Mayor Jason’s brief statements about the plans for relocation of the camp.
After an evening of questions and confusion, the mass eviction of the camp began on the morning of July 15. City officials, PNH, UDMO (PNH public order unit), UN police, and destruction crews were present as names were taken and shelters were ripped down. The displaced families gathered their belongings and a city truck was provided to transport them to the street just outside the stadium. One of the residents noted this was “just far enough to be forgotten”. The destruction and removal of families continued through Sunday, July 17. Of the original 514 families, an estimated 100-150 decided to forego the stipend and did not leave. During numerous interviews, not a single one of these individuals could confirm where they were going to be sent to, what conditions would be waiting for them there, and/or if they felt that they made the correct decision by not accepting the money. As with the majority of recent events, the IDPs have been left in the dark about their options, and without any participation in the process that will determine where they will continue to struggle to survive.
The IDPs that remained are in contact with the anti-eviction movement led by Haitian civil society organization including the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, Bri Kouri Nouvel Gaye, and FRAKKA, and have expressed desire to learn more about their rights so they can organize to ensure their rights are respected. However they are likely to face more than just their local officials moving forward.
The displaced families who remained at Sylvio Cator Stadium were extremely frustrated and expressed their concerns to community mobilizers. The majority believed they would be forced to leave by the evening of July 18 and relocated to a space two kilometers away. No transportation was being provided to the relocation space, and no child protection protocol was being used to ensure safe transfer. It appears as though nearly all of the measures specified as necessary for return and relocation were not being implemented.
On the morning of July 19, the families who relocated are now sharing a single plot of land that is estimated to be adequate for 50 families. Though not officially registered in the camp yet, an estimated 190 families relocated, a total of approximately 950 people. The shelters provided by the government, said to be donated by a private citizen, are extremely flimsy three-person tents. Though new, there are only ninety-nine of them for hundreds of families. They are unlikely to provide any real shelter during a storm and will likely fill with water quickly. One can only imagine how they will hold up to hurricane winds.
The camp and the families now staying there have not been provided with water or sanitiation. This means no toilets and no human waste disposal during a cholera epidemic at the time of a major surge. This is an extremely dangerous situation that requires immediate action by the authorities. The camp committee and numerous IDPs stated that they now wish to further organize in order to push for minimum standards of internal displacement to be respected, water and toilet facilities as their priority, then acceptable shelter. Today will mark another day of struggle for the first of the six camps the new presidential office has stated they will relocate.
As reported by the Associated Press, Camp Sylvio Cator is part of the Haitian Government’s plan for relocation of IDPs in Haiti. President Martelly presented a strategy to relocate the residents of six large camps back into reconstructed neighborhoods. Despite the fact that the president’s housing and reconstruction advisor, Patrick Rouzier, stated that the administration’s plans are not yet underway and Mayor Jason is acting on his own, Martelly all but directly gave the green light for evictions when he refused to denounce those perpetrated by Mayor Wilson of the Delmas neighborhood. At the date of this writing, Martelly’s office has not released an official comment on the recent actions of Mayor Jason, which occurred without judicial consent. If this eviction is any indication of Martelly’s plans for return and relocation, the IDPs will have another uphill battle after eighteen months of struggle. His administration’s inaction in this case will be percieved as additional permission for land owners and local government leaders to rid themselves of their most vulnerable populations.
As with other camps, the coercion and intimidation used to ensure the IDPs would leave camps without the provision of acceptable alternative housing solutions began over a year ago. When someone is starving, you very rarely need to offer them a menu if you want to feed them. After eighteen months of living in a precarious situation, with fear and increasing intimidation, families are quick to choose a stipend over a violent forced eviction regardless of the fact that they have no where else to go.
Check this website for updates on the situation. The authors will be participating the community meetings in the camp and will make daily visits.
Follow the Amnesty International link to send appeals to officials involved:
Mark Snyder is a founding member of the US based human rights civil society group International Action Ties. Working as a community mobilizer he has lived and worked in rural and urban India, Peru, and the United States. As an active partner in a anti-forced eviction initiative developed with Haitian civil society groups and organizations, IDP groups, and international NGO partners, Mark has spent the majority of the past year working alongside the IDPs of Port au Prince, Haiti.
Markenson Bellevue is a Hatian American who survived the January 12th earthquake and has remained in Haiti working with the humanitarian relief efforts. His shared experience of living in an IDP camp and working directly with others in similiar situations allows for a unique efficiency in mobilization of vulnerable IDP communities.