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Thousands of Haitians Face Risk of Forcible Evictions from Temporary Camps

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It’s been over seven months since Haiti’s devastating earthquake left up to 300,000 dead and displaced over 1.5 million. Only a small fraction of the displaced have found new homes, and those who’ve found shelter in temporary camps now face a new round of displacement. According to Haitian community groups, thousands of Haitians are at risk of forcible eviction from some of the 1,300 camps established since the quake. The evictions come at a time when reports show a rising number of rapes and sexual abuse in the aftermath of the quake, especially in the camps for the internally displaced. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: It’s been over seven months since Haiti’s devastating earthquake left up to 300,000 dead and displaced over 1.5 million. Only a small fraction of the displaced have found new homes, and those who’ve found shelter in temporary camps now face a new round of displacement. According to Haitian community groups, thousands of Haitians are at risk of forcible eviction from some of the 1,300 camps established since the quake. Last week, dozens of protesters held a sit-in at the remains of the National Palace to call for a moratorium on all forced evictions until alternative shelters are in place.

The threat of evictions comes as the international community is under increased criticism for failing to send aid money pledged at the international donors’ conference in March. According to the UN-sponsored Haiti Reconstruction Fund, only two countries — Brazil and Estonia — have paid the fully pledged amount. The United States, France, Canada and many other countries have failed to send their pledged aid. A recent review by CNN found that just two percent of total pledges have been delivered to Haiti.

AMY GOODMAN: But in addition to aid, calls are now growing for another form of payment to Haiti: reparations. This week, a group of prominent academics and activists published an open letter calling on France to repay an “independence debt” that it imposed nearly 200 years ago, after Haiti successfully won independence from France. Haiti was forced to pay France around 90 million gold francs up until World War II, which after interest and inflation is valued today at up to $40 billion.

For more on Haiti, we’re joined by three guests. Joining us by video stream from Ottawa, Canada, is Jean St.-Vil. He is a Haitian writer and activist.

Also joining us from Canada, down the highway in Montreal, is Vox Sambou. He is a Haitian hip-hop artist.

And joining us here in New York, Mark Schuller, just back from Haiti. He’s an assistant professor of African American studies and anthropology at the City University of New York, co-editor of the book Capitalizing on Catastrophe: Neoliberal Strategies in Disaster Reconstruction, also co-director and producer of the documentary film Poto Mitan: Haitian Women, Pillars of the Global Economy. This summer he’s been studying aid delivery and living conditions in Haiti’s camps for internally displaced.

You’re just back. This crisis of the camps, the makeshift camps, bad as they are, people are being thrown out of them. Can you explain what’s happening?

MARK SCHULLER: Sure. Well, about 65 percent of the camps are owned by private landowners. And, you know, it’s been several months, and the government has no funds, as you know, to do any kind of — you know, to reimburse the landowners, and there’s no public will for such. So, about 20 percent of the camps have been closed between May and July. And I’ve been working with eight student assistants, and they discovered about another eight percent of camps that are either being shut down or under threat of being shut down.

AMY GOODMAN: You visited a hundred camps. You just came back Sunday night?

MARK SCHULLER: Yeah, I came back Sunday night. My students visited a hundred camps. I went and visited about thirty. I did a follow-up visit, so…

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And can you describe the conditions in the camps — sanitation, water, security?

MARK SCHULLER: Sure. The best — quote-unquote, “best” camps are the ones that are officially managed by NGOs. And even those, you know, the conditions are bad. You know, the tents, as you know, rip. You know, it’s a hundred degrees every day. It’s been — you know, there was this period of seven days in a row where it rained every night. So, you know, at several camps that I visited, about 50 percent of the tents had been ripped. The tents had been ripped. And these are the best-managed camps. Other camps, you know, there’s Place St. Pierre in Delmas 2, where there’s about 6,000 families, and there’s only about fifty tents. The rest are tarps.

I mean, so the condition of security is a big issue, as you know. MADRE released a report about rape and violence against women. And, you know, tents don’t offer any kind of security. They can be easily ripped by, you know, a nail file. But even so, these tents offer even more — just a modicum of security, that you can store your stuff — you know, your driver’s license, your identity card, your birth certificate or money. But if you have a place like in Delmas 2 — very, very crowded, there’s no tents at all — you have no place to store your stuff. So there’s absolutely no security at all. Many, many places, 30 percent of camps, don’t have access to toilets. Twenty-seven don’t have access to water. So what people do is they, you know, go into a paper bag or a plastic bag, and they throw it in the ravine. The standard is twenty persons per toilet, and in many cases, you know, we’re talking about a hundred, 150 people per toilet. The conditions are very, very bad.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on the conditions in Haiti’s camps for the internally displaced, we’re going to turn to a recent report that aired on the Al Jazeera English program Fault Lines. Al Jazeera’s Sebastian Walker interviewed residents of one camp near Port-au-Prince.

    SEBASTIAN WALKER: While the official camp is home to just over 5,000 refugees, some 40,000 more have fled here from Port-au-Prince after the quake. These squatters have marked out their own plots of land with rocks and sticks and set up makeshift shelters. But they told us that police had come just a couple of days ago, slashed their tarpaulins, and told them to vacate the land.

    SQUATTER 1: [translated] You see how they use the machetes. They slashed through from the inside.

    SEBASTIAN WALKER: [translated] Can you show us?

    SQUATTER 1: [translated] Yes.

    SEBASTIAN WALKER: Well, it looks like the roof has also been slashed with machetes, and there’s rain now coming into the shelter.

    SQUATTER 2: [translated] They don’t want us to build here. The rich people need the land. They had the land surveyed so they can take over.

    SQUATTER 3: [translated] When I got here, they had beaten two people up. They were barely left alive. One was the owner of the house. They threatened us and said they had come to get me. Had I been here, they would have killed me. But they couldn’t find me.

    SEBASTIAN WALKER: This is supposed to be one of the few plots of land owned by the Haitian government. But it sounds like local police are enforcing the interests of private land speculators. Land tenure is one of the major issues holding up reconstruction and resettlement.

AMY GOODMAN: And for more on what’s happening in these camps, we’re going to turn to another Al Jazeera English report from Fault Lines, which looks at the rising number of rapes and sexual abuse in the aftermath of the quake, especially in the camps for the internally displaced.

    LOUINA ALABRE: [translated] At night, it is hard. I never sleep. I lie down, but I never sleep.

    SEBASTIAN WALKER: Louina Alabre lost her husband in the earthquake. Just three days later, her fourteen-year-old daughter Falande was attacked by a group of men.

    LOUINA ALABRE: [translated] I saw her coming towards me. She was crying, and her clothes were bloody. I asked her why she was crying and where the blood came from. She said that she couldn’t talk about it. Then she told me that three men pulled guns on her, covered her face, and raped her.

    SEBASTIAN WALKER: In May, Louina herself was raped when she went to use the latrines. The attackers were hiding inside.

    LOUINA ALABRE: [translated] They put a gun in my ear and told me, if I screamed, they would shoot me.

    SEBASTIAN WALKER: While there have been no thorough surveys and no official statistics, those working with rape survivors say that assaults in the camps are on the rise. Here, at a legal office in downtown Port-au-Prince, at least six different Haitian women’s groups meet to work out ways to protect women in the camps and provide support for survivors, many of whom come here for emergency medical and psychological care.

    CAMP RESIDENT: [translated] I don’t see any of the NGOs helping to stop violence against women or finding a way to avoid it, or working with the government to reduce it. Every day, the violence multiplies.

    SEBASTIAN WALKER: The leaders of at least one of the organizations, FAVILEK, told us they have not received any assistance from international NGOs. The FAVILEK organizers took us to the Savanne Pistache camp, where there have been numerous cases of rape and violent assaults on women in the past six months. Here, they introduced us to fourteen-year-old girl Maudeline Derival. Two months ago, she was sleeping with her mother in their shelter. About 4:00 in the morning, a man broke in with a gun and a machete. He told Maudeline’s mother that if she called for help, he’d kill her daughter. He then took Maudeline to a nearby ruined house, put a gun to her head, and raped her. When her father went to the police, they told him it wasn’t their problem.

    A few shelters down, and we heard another story.

    They came with machetes?

    This woman told us her home had recently been broken into.

    The only security this woman had was this tarpaulin stretched over the entrance to her tent.

    The man who came in slashed it with a razor. He told her that if she didn’t have sex with him, he’d kill her. She was relatively lucky. She managed to call for help, and the man fled. They’re hoping that these testimonies will eventually make criminal investigations possible, in spite of the apparent indifference of the Haitian police. And while we saw no Haitian police here, we did find the symbols of international protection: the United Nations flag and blue helmets.

    Can we speak to the commander?

    This base houses some of the UN’s 10,000-strong force.

    I’m going to tell them that there are cases of rape that are going on every night in this camp and just ask them what they’re trying to do about it.

    We tried putting the women’s concerns to the base’s Sri Lankan commander.

    How do they contact you? How — I mean, if there are cases of rape going on at night, and you guys are right here, can you not help?

    UN BASE COMMANDER: Gentlemen, don’t take the video here. Understood?

    SEBASTIAN WALKER: The commander has told me that neither he nor his soldiers are actually allowed to even speak to the civilian population of this camp without permission from his commanding officer. He’s given me the name of somebody at a UN base some distance from here, but he wouldn’t give out the telephone number, and there’s no way for these residents to even communicate with the soldiers who are living in this base.

    It’s the disconnect between the international community in Haiti and the people that are here to help. And we saw it again on a night patrol with UN police.

    This is one of the biggest camps in Port-au-Prince. There’s a plentiful supply of flood lights and electricity. That’s not always the case in all of the other camps around the city.

    In addition to the lights, the UN is hoping that these officers, members of a newly arrived contingent of 600 female Bangladeshi police, will make it safer here and easier for women to report violence. But like most of the UN police force in Haiti, the Bangladeshis don’t speak the local language, Creole, or even French, making meaningful communication with the camp residents impossible.

    A couple of days ago, we were in a camp where women were complaining of rapes going on every single night.

    JEAN-FRANCOIS VEZINA, UN Police Spokesperson: Mm-hmm. Rapes? No, that’s not true.

    SEBASTIAN WALKER: It was a very big camp. I mean, we spoke to people that are saying there were incidents on a very regular basis.

    JEAN-FRANCOIS VEZINA: But actually, we don’t have any information about rapes every night, for sure.


    But when girls and women are being assaulted under the noses of international peacekeepers and so many thousands languish under the elements in ill-lit IDP camps, it’s no surprise that across the city you meet people who feel angry and abandoned by international NGOs and the United Nations.

    There is a lot of hostility on the street towards the presence of NGOs. I mean, it must make things more difficult for you to kind of have —-

    EDMOND MULET, UN Mission Chief in Haiti: I don’t agree with that term of hostility on the streets against NGOs or international community.

    SEBASTIAN WALKER: Well, everywhere you go, you see graffiti saying “Down with the NGOs! NGOs are thieves! And down with the UN!”

    EDMOND MULET: Everywhere?

    SEBASTIAN WALKER: Pretty much every neighborhood in Port-au-Prince has graffiti which -—

    EDMOND MULET: Yeah, no, I don’t agree with that assessment. I don’t see that. It’s some groups, maybe some minority groups.

    SEBASTIAN WALKER: Have you seen any —

    EDMOND MULET: Politically motivated, maybe, at this point, but I don’t think it really reflects the sentiment of the people of Haiti.

    SEBASTIAN WALKER: Do you think there’s been a lack of focus on this transitional period? And do you think you may be taking your eye off the ball?

    EDMOND MULET: As I said a while ago, I think that we did lose the sense of urgency that was there in the very beginning. And as I said, I think we have to reenergize that, and we’re doing that right now.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s from Al Jazeera English’s Fault Lines, produced by Jeremy Dupin and Andréa Schmidt, hosted by Al Jazeera English reporter Sebastian Walker. The special, “Haiti: Six Months On,” is available on full at their website

When we come back, we’re going to go to Canada. We’ll stay here in New York, and we’ll talk about what’s happening in Haiti seven months later. Stay with us.

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