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Victimized a Second Time: State-Sanctioned Forced Evictions of Haiti’s Displaced Earthquake Survivors

Without available land, there is nowhere for people to go.

We stood in a tight group, over a dozen blan huddled together, trying not to obstruct the narrow path between the makeshift shelters of corrugated metal, cardboard, plastic and tin. We listened to a community spokesperson, a representative of the group  KOFAVIV (Komisyon Fanm Viktim pou Viktim, or Commission of Women Victims for Victims). She explained how she and the other displaced earthquake survivors, who had lost their homes in the quake, had been supported in their camp in the park across from St. Anne’s Church at first by Oxfam, but then Oxfam had picked up and left in May of this year. Despite the millions of dollars raised in both private donations and government funds in the weeks and months following Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake, no other NGO had stepped in to provide for the camps’ residents. They were left to fend for themselves. Now, she worried that they were also threatened with eviction: there was a rumor that two representatives of a large NGO had been by that very morning, warning them to prepare to be evicted October 17. (Thankfully, subsequent investigation suggests that in this particular case, the imminent threat of eviction was merely a rumor.) But considering other recent forced evictions, the camp residents had good reason to be concerned, and we had no choice but to take the threat seriously. 

How did the survivors of Haiti’s earthquake go from being the focus of an historic outpouring of solidarity and support in the days and weeks after the earthquake, to being victimized again – this time by human actions? 

Stories of forced evictions of Haiti’s internally displaced persons (IDP’s, in NGO jargon) have received some limited media coverage, although much more is warranted. But what coverage there has been has often focused on evictions from privately-owned land. We were told repeatedly that the root of post-quake Haiti’s housing problem is the lack of access to land. This is complicated by the lack of proof of clear ownership in many cases. Without available land, there is nowhere for people to go. Some choose to return to their quake-damaged homes, despite that fact that the majority of such homes were severely damaged and are too dangerous for human habitation. 

Staying on privately-held land is dangerous.  According to the International Organization on Migration [PDF], as of March, thousands of Haitian IDP’s had been forcibly evicted from camps located on private land through the use of violence, and 166,000 more had been threatened with eviction. Considering these perils, it is understandable why many camps sprung up on public land: in parks, stadiums, fields and other green spaces. Yet these are not safe zones either. Despite promises that the new Haitian president, Michel Martelly, made upon taking office, the Haitian government seems intent on removing displaced quake survivors from public lands. Soccer games, or strolls through empty parks, apparently are more important than offering people a place to live, with a roof – however flimsy – over their head to protect them from the elements. 

Martelly presented his camp closure plan as part of an initiative to move current camp residents  into more permanent housing. The plan offers compensation to IDP’s of up to $500 USD per family for one year to move from camps to rental units, and $150 USD to families to return to their pre-earthquake homes. (Between $1,500-$3,500 USD is also offered to those who agree to repair their homes and offer free stays to other IDP’s for 2-5 years.) Announcing the plan, Martelly vowed to close all of Haiti’s IDP camps, home to almost 600,000 people, within six months, including six camps within his first 100 days in office. 

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