Barbancourt 17, a camp on a construction site south of the Toussaint L'Ouverture Airport (sud-aeroport), was evicted last week – on Thursday September 29 – by the International Organization on Migration (IOM), the manager of Haiti's post-earthquake camps. Home to 43 families, the camp dates to immediately after the earthquake in January 2010.
I visited the camp today (October 4), and spoke to Nadege Bazile, 29, who is living out of a car with her children on the street outside the site. She came to the camp from elsewhere in Petionville. The camp residents were evicted suddenly on Wednesday, with no plan or provision made for where they were supposed to go. Some have been taken in by family and friends, while some are living in cars, others in alleys and streets.
When the two IOM representatives arrived on Thursday, they told camp residents to board buses. They were driven to four different alternative sites, but none of them took them in. Eventually, they were all deposited outside the Delmas 33 police station. When some of them made their way back to the camp on Friday, two were arrested.
The landowner, a middle-aged man named Pierre, made it clear he didn't want the camp to be re-opened. “My problem is solved,” he said. When the earthquake happened, he had allowed his lot to be used as an emergency measure. “But twenty-two months later it is not an emergency situation any more.” After giving the IOM deadline after deadline, the owner gave them an ultimatum: if they are not removed, he would do it himself. I asked him if he received any compensation from any government or international body for having the camp on his property: “Not one penny, and I haven't asked for one penny, because if you do, that's when they squeeze you.”
When asked what camp residents were expected to do, he suggested that it wasn't his problem, but also argued that both camp residents and international NGOs were interested in keeping the people in camps, and that most camp residents had other homes, which they were renting out, while living in the camps for free and hoping to get free homes from international donors.
From the living conditions of the evicted residents, it seemed to me a pretty uncomfortable way to make money. Most of their belongings are crammed into a single truck, parked on the street just outside the camp. Six families are living in an unadorned stone alleyway (from which they are likely to be evicted in turn), and another family is living in the back of a truck.
With 60% of camps on private lands and impatient landowners, the camp population is falling, but if Barbancourt 17 is any indication, the mechanism is brute force, and moving from a camp to the street is no improvement. Jean Benes Polemond, president of the camp's committee, thinks that the IOM is responsible: “The IOM created this problem,” he said. Bazile agrees. She had attended a 3-hour training with the organization, which made the eviction all the more shocking: “The IOM betrayed us.”
I'm working with Ansel Herz, of mediahacker.org, while I'm in Haiti.
Justin Podur is a Toronto-based writer. He is in Haiti this week (until Oct 10).