Haiti: Quake Refugees Seek Moratorium on Evictions

The children standing at the tent beside the filthy pool of water put their needs simply when asked what they wish for: “À manger; l’école,” they said, practically in unison. In English, “We want to eat; we want to go to school.” (IPS) – The children standing at the tent beside the filthy pool of water put their needs simply when asked what they wish for: “À manger; l’école,” they said, practically in unison. In English, “We want to eat; we want to go to school.”

The children’s home is Barbancourt 2, a camp in the capital Port-au-Prince of around 2,000 people made homeless by Haiti’s January earthquake. This is one of the camps whose residents face eviction.

Trailed by the eight or so curious kids, David Bazil, vice president of the camp council and school principal in better times, tours the camp with a reporter. He gestures toward the holes and tears in the tarps and tents. One shelter is just a stick frame.

“The person didn’t have money to get a tarp for the walls,” Bazil explains, adding that perhaps he would find rice sacks for walls.

Bazil points to the row of port-a-potties and says they are so filthy and emptied so irregularly that people prefer using plastic bags. A line of showers stands beside the latrines. Careful not to step into the water, Bazil follows a narrow stream running from the showers, between the rows of tents and spilling into the mosquito-infested pool.

Life in the camp is miserable for most of the 310 residents, many of whom survived the deaths of loved ones, the loss of income and destruction of their houses, Bazil says. Nonetheless it is their home and living under the presumed property owner’s threat of eviction increases the stress, he says.

The camp sits on prime industrial land near the airport and the man who says he’s the owner – it’s not clear that he has title to the land – wants to build a factory there, Bazil said. Little permanent housing has been built for survivors. Rent for available housing has skyrocketed. People owning damaged homes can’t afford repairs.

“For six months, the owner has been asking us to move, but we’re resisting because we don’t know where we’d go,” Bazil said. “In the beginning, he’d show up with a judge and police officers to pressure us to leave. Three months ago, he gave us another three months.”

IPS was unable to contact the presumed property owner.

A week or so later, IPS spoke with the representative of a landowner who succeeded in removing homeless campers from property in Carrefour, just outside Port au Prince – the Salesians of the Catholic Church.

Father Pierre Ernest Bazile resides in the brothers’ half of the large compound whose shady outdoor space has become a campground for homeless survivors. Beyond the wall is the Salesian sisters’ compound, home to some 13,000 earthquake survivors until mid-August.

According to Saint Badette Mira (known as Badette), president of the Organisation for Victims of the January 12 Earthquake, the survivors living on the Salesian sisters’ property – of whom he was one – were evicted, some with brutal force.

Fr. Bazile doesn’t call it eviction. “Ever since the earthquake, we told the people that their time on the property was limited. But that didn’t mean they had to leave right away. They thought they’d stay six months, but then it went beyond six months. So we entered into dialogue with them,” he said.

“We understood the conditions they were living in – tents were beginning to deteriorate. We didn’t have the means to help them live in dignity. So we said we’d do something for them. We spoke with them. Little by little, these people showed us they wanted to leave – but not just any way. They’d leave if they could get some help,” he said.

The Salesians created Project Relocation: each homeless family in the sisters’ section was given the equivalent of $200 to $400, food for two weeks, and a mattress, Fr. Bazile said. Badette contends the payment was $63 per family.

“We don’t pretend that we did everything,” Fr. Bazile said, adding that every family that left had a place to stay with friends or family. He said Project Relocation worked so well, they plan to duplicate it on the rest of the property.

“They’re waiting impatiently to leave,” Fr. Bazile said. “We’re not pushing them out. It’s a dialogue we’re having from day to day.”

As for Badette, Fr. Bazile said he’s a troublemaker, an agitator who distributed leaflets and spoke on the radio, encouraging others to resist moving. He said no violence was used to make Badette or others leave.

Badette said because of his organising efforts, his tent was destroyed and his life threatened. In the end, he took the Salesians’ payment and left.

“It was like, even if you don’t take the money, we’ll kick you out anyway,” Badette said. “They put it out that leaving was voluntary, but that’s not true. It’s a shame that it’s a Haitian priest that’s giving that kind of declaration. They give people this tiny bit of money that can’t possibly do any good for them.” He said his organisation helped resettle people forced out of the camp.

Bazil of Barbancourt 2 and Badette help organise grassroots protests against evictions. Mario Joseph of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux is organising internationally. On Oct. 26, he addressed the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, asserting that the 1987 Haitian Constitution guarantees housing rights.

“The Haitian government has the right to negotiate a moratorium against evictions…until there is a definitive solution for those displaced,” he said.

IACHR commissioners promised to investigate.