After outcry, forced evictions halted in tent camps ... for now

Melinda MilesMelinda Miles

At the Place St. Pierre there are considerably fewer families living under tarps then there were only a couple of months ago. The Mayor of Petionville’s program of offering each family 20,000 Haitian gourdes (about $500 US) to leave the park has led to a thinning of the camp. Even though $500 will not get a family into a safe housing situation, desperation has led many to accept the funds (which they use for immediate health, food or tuition needs) and then find an equally or even more precarious place to live.

After more than twenty-four hours of rain, the Place St. Pierre smells like something there are no words to describe. Overflowing portable toilets, garbage that floats down during the rains from the homes and businesses in the mountains above, and hundreds of people still living in the mud and fetid puddles. One breath of the air outside the camp is enough to convince anyone that people would never voluntarily choose to remain in the camp if they had any other alternative.

Last week the Mayor of Delmas, Wilson Jeudy, took a different approach. Instead of offering money to homeless earthquake survivors, he simply showed up with agents from his office and Haitian National Police and without warning began to destroy the tarps and tents of families at the intersection of the Delmas and Airport Roads (Kafou Ayopò). Several hundred people living in the park were evicted without warning and without a relocation plan. Piles of tarps donated by the American Red Cross and USAID were strewn amongst the few possessions these families had. These forced evictions are taking place in the midst of the rainy season. Homeless families are now without even the most rudimentary shelter and have nowhere else to go.

Mayor Jeudy announced he would continue to evict IDPs in the Delmas area. People were injured as the police swung batons and later as people protested in front of their devastated camp, the police fired shots to disburse the crowd and continued to beat those who came within arm’s reach. At least one person was shot and wounded. Two days later, Jeudy and several truckloads of agents armed with knives and machetes dismantled a camp at Delmas 3. The violent destruction was followed by a bulldozer that scooped up what was left of people’s belongings as well as tarps and tents they called home. At least one other camp in Delmas 5 was taken down before they stopped that day.

In response to these disturbing attacks on homeless earthquake victims, four members of the U.S. Congress made a statement of their outrage about the forced evictions. Rep. Donald M. Payne (NJ), Rep. Yvette Clarke (NY), Rep. Frederica Wilson (FL), and Rep. Maxine Waters (CA) declared: “It is mind-boggling that any government official would condone or ignore such actions during a time when Haiti is seeking to recover from the crisis stemming from the January 2010 earthquake and the subsequent sluggish rebuilding process.  Facing hostile conditions, including adverse weather, violence, and disease, shelter and work are the priorities for every displaced Haitian and must not be compromised.”

Amnesty International and TransAfrica Forum both issued urgent action alerts, encouraging people to write to Haiti’s new President Michel Martelly and ask for an immediate halt to forced evictions.

Clearly life is becoming more untenable for victims of Haiti’s earthquake, especially now as hurricane season in underway. After 17 months living under torn tarps and tents, families are being forcibly evicted from the public and private property where they have been living for more than a year. President Michel Martelly has a pilot program to relocate six camps, at least three during his first 100 days in office. If the Delmas evictions are any indicator, the relocations will be done without due process, without community consultation, without any known plan for relocation and with violence.

President Martelly promised to resolve the problem of IDPs on both public and private land, but after running his campaign for change many did not believe he would continue with illegal forced evictions. Neither President Martelly nor his representatives were at the scene of the violent destruction in Delmas. Also missing from the scene were representatives of the United Nations’ Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) cluster. And despite being responsible for management of the camps, the CCCM’s leadership from the Organization for International Migration (OIM) canceled that week’s cluster meeting.

After pressure from U.S. Congress and some press coverage of Mayor Jeudy’s destructive actions in Delmas, evictions have temporarily stopped in Delmas’ public parks. However the housing crisis is far from being resolved and the threat of eviction is still a daily source of fear for Haiti’s internally displaced population. As people are drenched day after day during this rainy season, and the fear of hurricanes weighs heavy throughout the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area, earthquake victims are continuing to suffer in extremely dangerous and miserable conditions.

Melinda Miles is the Director of Let Haiti Live, a media advocacy project of the TransAfrica Forum.