In Haiti, pressure rising for displaced to vacate church
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — As tent camps go, the one on the 28-acre Church of God property overlooking the Valley of Bourdon is almost bucolic, with hundreds of canvas-draped shelters under leafy shade trees and a cohesiveness among residents. But panic is building there.
The Church of God is planning to evict the encampment in the near future. While the church relented on a Sept. 30 deadline under pressure from humanitarian officials, it still wants its Haitian headquarters rid of a population that church officials have come to see as a freeloading nuisance.
“This used to be a beautiful place, but these people are tearing up the property,” said Jim Hudson, a Church of God missionary living at the site. “They’re urinating on it. They’re bathing out in public. They’re stealing electricity. And they don’t work. They sit around all day, waiting for handouts.”
Increasingly, property owners here are seeking to dislodge tent camps, saying they are tired of waiting for the government to resettle the people or for the people to resettle themselves.
Almost nine months after the earthquake that devastated Haiti, eviction threats have increased markedly and have become an urgent humanitarian concern, international groups say. Some 144,175 individuals have been subject to threats of eviction since March, and 28,065 have been evicted, according to data collected by shelter experts here.
Humanitarian officials have asked the government to consider a moratorium on evictions and to address the issue publicly, urging compassion. They worry that the evictions could increase conflict, lead to the mushrooming of smaller sites without services and force people into locations that are unsafe.
“It’s a huge problem that could exacerbate lots of other problems,” said Lilianne Fan, the housing, land and property coordinator for the multiagency shelter cluster. “The bottom line is that the vulnerable become more vulnerable, and you get into a situation of continual displacement without a long-term solution.”
Many landowners, fearing that the tent cities will become entrenched slums, say they need to reclaim their properties sooner rather than later for their intended uses.
Their eviction practices vary, from sudden and violent to mediated and planned. In some cases, landowners have sent thugs to slash or burn tents; in others they have offered cash payoffs to expedite expulsions.
But whatever the method, the evictions increase the instability of the displaced population for whom few alternatives exist, given the slow pace of the cleanup and reconstruction effort.
Humanitarian officials are working with the government to develop a comprehensive strategy for handling camp closings based on the now scattershot efforts to help people clean up and move back into their neighborhoods.