Bureau des Avocats Internationaux.
education and outreach associate for the Center for Constitutional Rights’ international human rights docket
Reconstruction efforts in Haiti have barely begun 15 months after a devastating earthquake killed thousands and left more than 1.5 million people homeless. Hundreds of thousands of people still live in makeshift shelters in hundreds of tent camps across Haiti. Democracy Now!’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous reports from one of those camps and speaks with residents who face imminent eviction by landowners even though they have nowhere else to go. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Reconstruction efforts in Haiti have barely begun, a full 15 months after the disaster. By some estimates, less than five percent of the rubble has been cleared, and only 15 percent of the temporary housing that’s needed has been built. Less than 10 percent of the $9 billion pledged by foreign donors has been delivered. More than a million people remain homeless, still living in the makeshift shelters in hundreds of tent camps around the country.
Just before we went to the Haitian police station, we visited one of these refugee camps. And Democracy Now!’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous filed this report.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: So we’re heading right now to a camp, one of many tent camps in Port-au-Prince and across Haiti that have sprung up since this earthquake struck. Many people in these camps are now facing eviction. And we’re going to one of these camps that is of imminent threat of eviction by landowners.
We’re joined by Jeena Shah, who’s with the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, which is the Office of International Lawyers. They’ve been dealing very closely with this issue.
Jeena, where are we going right now? Describe the camp.
JEENA SHAH: We’re going to Camp Barbancourt Deux. It is a camp that sits on a property that a landowner who owns one of the big warehouses in Port-au-Prince claims to own. And it’s a small camp of 325 families, that’s been facing violent threats of eviction since last April.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And why are they being evicted?
JEENA SHAH: They’re being evicted because the person purporting to own the land is saying that he needs to use that part of the land to build another factory for a Chinese company that he has a contract with. They are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They have nowhere else to go. They do not want to be living in these camps. And they have to fight tooth and nail to stay in horrible conditions, because they have absolutely nowhere else to go.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Right opposite this tent camp is a massive building that says "Food for the Poor." And with us here is Laura Raymond, who is with the Center for Constitutional Rights, working for a few days in Haiti.
Laura, tell us, what is this building that’s across the street here?
LAURA RAYMOND: Food for the Poor is a Christian charity that — as you can see, it’s really hovering above the tent camp across the street. And the tent camp told us that they actually have written letters saying that they’re — that they are, you know, hungry and poor, and they need the food from Food for the Poor. And Food for the Poor has not responded to the letters.
So we actually went into Food for the Poor a couple days ago, because the camp committee had asked us to, you know, try to intervene and get something, because there’s actually no — besides water, there’s no services being provided to this camp. And the director of distribution basically said, you know, "We don’t do distribution out of here." And they actually said that it would just be a mob scene if they tried to bring food out here, which is ridiculous, because, as you’ll see, the people at this camp are, you know, incredibly polite people, they’re organized. All they need, really, is the food, and they can distribute it themselves.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We’re entering the camp right now. This is Barbancourt Deux. As you can see, most of these tents are made up of just tarps that have been donated and put together very — in a haphazard way, with cinder blocks, with sticks, with poles. There’s no running water. There’s no sewage system. This is a difficult way to live.
We’re standing here with one of the camp residents. Could you tell us your name, how long you’ve been living here, and describe the situation around you?
MR. PAUL: [translated] My name is Mr. Paul. I come from the north, Saint-Michel-de-l’Atalaye, and I live in Delmas 31. I came to the camp with all the people who are here on January 12th. The situation is not good at all for us. The International Committee, the National Committee, they’ve never said anything on our behalf on this camp here. Look at the kids here, the children. None of them goes to school. The parents just can’t afford it.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And now you face eviction?
MR. PAUL: [translated] Yes, we’ve been asked to be evicted. They’ve put construction materials here, because they say they’re going to start with a factory here.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: If you are evicted, where would you go?
MR. PAUL: [translated] We have nowhere to go.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: What do you want people who are watching this to understand?
MR. PAUL: [translated] People who are watching me, I would like them to — if some of them can intervene on our behalf, please do it, because I speak on behalf of the nation. All of them are insisting that things are really hard for them.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We continued to talk to residents around the camp. Here’s an elderly woman who’s been living here for the past 14 months. Tell us your name, and describe what it’s like to live here.
LISANNA FENELON: [translated] Lisanna Fenelon phon.. I’ve lived here since January 12th, the earthquake. And we’re not good at all. We don’t sleep well. We sleep under pressure, and life is so not — so sour. We’re not fed well. We just don’t have a life. Sometimes I have a rash all over. I don’t know if it’s because of the hygiene conditions I’m living in.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: What’s it like for your younger children to have lived here for so long?
LISANNA FENELON: [translated] They suffer a lot sometimes. There’s nothing we can do here. We have no jobs. Sometimes if our neighbors cook, they can give us some food — give me some food, so I can give to them. Otherwise, I have no means to take care of them. I was a sewer — I used to sew, but after the earthquake, that destroyed everything I had, including my sewing machine. I’ve never been able to replace it.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: What did you think of the return of Aristide?
LISANNA FENELON: [translated] We love Aristide. We love his return. If Aristide was here, he would visit us. We would not be that hungry. Other countries have offered to give us food, but Préval has stopped that. He doesn’t want us to get fed. If he was Aristide, Aristide would be begging for us. He would be asking food to other countries for us. Préval is just facilitating the situation to the elite, to the bourgeois, that are making money on it, on our head.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Just on the outskirts of the camp is a — what looks like a garbage dump with fetid water — that is, doesn’t smell very good, and it’s on the outskirts of the camp. Jeena, describe to us what this is here.
JEENA SHAH: This is a cesspool that was created when the neighbor built a wall around here, because the drainage was going across his land, and he didn’t want that to be on his land anymore, so he built a wall, and that created this cesspool here, that when there are heavy rains, the water comes all the way up to the tents. It actually started flooding several tents that they had to pick up and move away from it. And because of the water and the trash and the sewage that’s collected here, it’s caused a lot of diseases in the camp. There have been children who have contracted malaria, and they’ve suffered from skin rashes.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: OK, so he wants to show us how the water comes up right to the tents where people live. And we’re going to go take a look.
JEENA SHAH: So, the water, it can’t go anywhere because this wall is here. It ends up just standing here.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The water here used to drain past this wall, but once they built this wall, it builds up here. Over here we can see the very green kind of swampy water, and just hundreds, thousands of mosquitoes are breeding here and hovering above the water. The stench here is very strong. And you can see already the water has reached the tents. When there are heavy rains, the water comes up even closer to many of the tents here. And this is where people have lived for over a year now. We’re going to see if we can take a look inside one of these tents here.
JEENA SHAH: We’re walking now to Paul’s tent. Paul came to this camp after the earthquake. Before the earthquake, he used to teach French, Creole and chemistry in school, and he was working on teaching physics, as well. But the earthquake destroyed the school that he worked in, and since then he hasn’t been able to find another job.
So, he’s explaining that the water comes all the way over here, and it threatens the tents in this area, as well.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We’re walking into Paul’s house right now to take a look. And as you can see, it’s quite cramped and pretty dark and quite hot also. There’s a very, very young baby who’s sleeping here. They have a mosquito net over her.
And how old is she? Quelle age?
MR. PAUL: Trois mois.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: She’s three months old. Who do you think is responsible for the situation here?
MR. PAUL: [translated] The president or the president that will be elected should take responsibility. It’s only the president that can get us out of these tents. Each day, they come by, and they drop off more construction materials, and they say that "the week that’s coming, you’re going to have to leave." They keep giving us these threats. But we don’t have any money, we don’t have any place to go. Because I used to be a teacher, and I don’t have that job anymore, I don’t have any other means of working, so I have no way of getting money. I am unemployed, and I’m always just — I spend all day just sitting here in the camp. Under Aristide, I was able to work well. And because of that, I’ve put “Welcome home, Aristide.”
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We’re walking outside of the camp right now. So you can see right next to the camp there’s many large construction beams and a lot of construction sand that’s been dumped here right on the outskirts of the camp, right next to the first row of tents. And this is how they’re trying to force the residents out, saying they want to build a factory here.
JEENA SHAH: Since last April, the purported landowner has come to the camp at least twice with armed policemen and special units of the police to threaten people to leave the camp. The police themselves directly told the residents, "We know we have no authority to kick you out, but the landowner has paid us to come here to intimidate you."
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Is this common in other camps?
JEENA SHAH: This is common. We’ve seen this in several other camps, where purported landowners either hire the police or hire the other agencies in the government to come with bulldozers to crush tents, and — or they just hire private thugs.
LAURA RAYMOND: Our concern is that the people in the camp continually try to get the government of Haiti involved. The government of Haiti has a human rights obligation, and under international law and Haitian law has an obligation to protect the rights of the people in the camp here and respond to the needs of the people in the camp. You know, the Ministry of Interior is supposed to be responsible for the camps. And so, the people here in this camp have continually reached out to the ministries, the Haitian ministries responsible, to try to get them to come, to try to get them to help drain the cesspool that is in the back of the camp, where people are getting sick and getting bitten with all kinds of bugs from the cesspool, and also to intervene in this imminent eviction. And the government is being non-responsive. And so, it’s an enormous problem throughout the camps here that the government needs to address, and they need to put a moratorium on evictions until, you know, a full resettlement plan is put into practice.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: This is Barbancourt Deux, a camp that’s facing eviction. Many hundreds of camps in Haiti are like it, thousands across the country. There’s more than 1.3 million who remain homeless since the earthquake. And now, camps like this one, 325 families living in it, are about to lose even the very little that they still have.
For Democracy Now!, I’m Sharif Abdel Kouddous, with Hany Massoud, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.