The U.N. Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) issued a press statement at the end of last week “express[ing] the grave concern of the humanitarian community in country regarding the recent incidents of forced evictions of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from camps in Port-au-Prince.”
The OCHA release follows a visit to the Acra 2 IDP camp in Port-au-Prince which “followed evictions of about 1,000 displaced families in camps Acra 1 and 2 (Petionville) and Gaston Margron (Carrefour) in metropolitan Port-au-Prince on 17 February 2013.”
The OCHA press statement notes:
Today, a little less than 350,000 displaced people live in 450 camps, most of them unable to find a return solution and without access to appropriate services. The humanitarian community estimates that more than 66,000 internally displaced persons (in 150 camps) have been victims of forced evictions since July 2010. More than 73,000 people living in 87 camps (20 per cent of the total displaced population) are facing threats of eviction in 2013. A forced eviction is the permanent or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families or communities from the homes or land they occupy, without the provision of access to appropriate forms of legal or other protection.
The statement was an improvement over past OCHA mischaracterizations of some forced eviction cases as “voluntary returns.”
According to the release, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator Ross Mountain “met with the Minister of Human Rights and the Fight against Extreme Poverty, Mrs. Rose Anne Auguste to discuss the issue of forced evictions in IDP camps.” Ms. Auguste
stated that a judicial inquiry was ongoing and security presence was being strengthened around camps at risk. She pointed out that President Martelly had on several occasions condemned forced evictions and that the Government-designed 16/6 programme for camp closure remains the way forward. The 16/6 project supports the return and resettlement of displaced persons living in camps, as well as the rehabilitation of the neighborhoods affected by displacement.
But as we have previously noted, the Martelly administration’s “16/6” program has failed to assist the majority of Haiti’s IDP’s. We noted in October that after one year, only some 44,000 people had been resettled through the program, significantly less than had been forcibly evicted, and just 60 of the remaining IDP sites were planned to benefit from return programs similar to 16/6. As we have also noted, there has been no systematic tracking of what has happened to people leaving the camps, and there is a need to examine what will happen to former camp residents once the rental subsidies they receive under the 16/6 program end.
The Martelly administration has also been charged with complicity in various forced evictions, and those of Acra camp residents last month are but the latest example. According to housing and IDP rights coalition Fos Refleksyon ak Aksyon sou Koze Kay (FRAKKA), residents of the Acra 2 camp were the victims of arson by “heavily armed men” who set fire to tents on the nights of both February 16 and 17. On the 17th, they
set fire to whatever tents and victims’ possessions had not been burned the night before. The criminal blaze consumed a five-year-old child, nearly four thousand tents, and all the possessions of four thousand families. Dilia Marie, mother of five, says she just barely rescued her one-month-old baby, Cadet Ismaella, from the flames of Martelly’s bandits.
After the blaze had burned out within the Acra 2 camp, more than four thousand families had nowhere to go. They are now sleeping on the streets and on the porches of others’ houses, where they are harassed and left empty-handed.
FRAKKA cited camp residents who claimed police were “complicit” in the attack. FRAKKA also notes that following a previous forced eviction at Place Jérémie, President Martelly took credit for the clearing of the camp, saying “We scored four goals.” According to FRAKKA:
The camp at Place Jérémie was one of them. Justice should have brought public action against the criminal acts that these men committed against the inhabitants of the tents, but the President had officially sanctioned one of those acts. However, Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states that the State is responsible for protecting the lives of all people who are victims of any natural disaster and must give those people every form of necessary assistance.
“Government officials have not come to our rescue,” ousted residents of Acra 2 told Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste, “while they travel this route every day.”
Residents of another camp, the Grace Village camp also reported government complicity at both the local and national level in attempts to force them to move: “The Haitian National Police have been in the camp, firing their weapons in the air to pressure people to leave,” adding to violence and intimidation that they say they are under from landowner Pastor Joel Jeune. The residents also note “The local Mayor has been reported to only take the side of the Pastor, and supports his illegal activities, as do the church groups in the US that are funding these actions by Pastor Jeune, though hopefully without their knowledge.”
“The President [Martelly] doesn’t think that we are people,” one Grace Village camp resident was quoted as saying.
The Haitian housing rights group, FRAKKA has been organizing with the camp members and informing them of their rights. Haitian human rights firms, BAI and DOP are supporting their legal battle. Both are assisting with the organization of the camp members to resist the forced eviction and the violation of their rights.
The larger context behind the struggle of IDP camp residents is of course the lack of housing. The failure of both the Haitian government and the international community to produce a clear, viable and deliverable housing plan after three years is evident in how few houses were built in the first three years after the earthquake – less than 6,000 – and the less than 19,000 houses that were repaired, even though 1.5 million people were displaced by the disaster.