IOM on Haiti – relocation of vulnerable community thwarted by land dispute

Many thanks to Peter van der Auweraert at IOM for bringing the below IOM Press Note, dated 02 July 2010, to my attention. It provides a rather vivid depiction of the less than constructive role of Port au Prince’s large landowners in the effort to provide transitional shelter to victims of the January earthquake (as alluded to yesterday in my post here).

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When armed thugs allegedly hired by landowners threatened violence on IOM staff and support workers earlier this week, a sensitive operation to rescue families from a desperate situation came grinding to a halt.

Some 263 families cling precariously to life in Parc Fleurieux; their sad tents hug the bank of a football field that’s flooded with stagnant water contaminated by a nearby open sewer. Women wash their clothes in a muddy creek using water that emerges from the grime of Port-au-Prince . Naked children wander through the camp scratching at skin infections, while residents suffering from malaria and other illnesses sit bleary-eyed in their tents.

The Haitian Government, IOM, international and non-governmental actors agreed that the health situation of the group was critical and that urgent action was required to prevent a public health crisis. After discussion with the local mayor, a location was found on an informal space with room for extra families and work on preparing the site with gravel and drains began.

Once force was threatened during the voluntary relocation, the whole operation was called off pending negotiations with the landowner’s representatives. It was left to Renald, the 29-year old elected site representative to break the disappointing news to his fellow residents. An eloquent man who speaks fluent English and French and Creole, he says he has been both homeless and unemployed since the 12 January earthquake.

Renald invited visitors to see his tent, where his wife sat scrubbing clothes and his young daughter played naked. The lower part of her torso is covered in scars from third degree burns she suffered when their home caught fire in the quake. “She needs plastic surgery badly”, he says, a sadness welling in his eyes, “but we can barely afford to pay for enough food”.

Broken promises are nothing new to Haitians living in difficult circumstances. Almost six months after the country was devastated by the quake, daily life is a misery for more than 1.5 million homeless individuals.

The torment seems unending for the residents of Parc Fleurieux, with many living in tents and homemade shelters so dilapidated that a stiff summer breeze can make short work of them. The prospect of violent storms or even hurricanes striking Haiti ’s unprotected encampments this summer, fills humanitarian workers and national officials with dread.

Attempts by the government to acquire land by decree have had mixed success with the result that there is little real movement to improve the plight of the displaced population. Efforts to return people to their own communities become thwarted by the lack of legal title while lawsuits are threatened against those who remove rubble without permission.

Back at Parc Fleurieux, a young boy named Sampson sits forlornly by the rubbish-strewn lake that laps against the side of his camp. His sad demeanour speaks of a stolen childhood and for now at least, a destiny of abject poverty without the benefit of rudimentary shelter.

For further information, please contact Leonard Doyle, Media and Communication Officer, IOM Haiti , Tel: + 509 3702 5066; email: ldoyle@iom.int

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