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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Visting Barbancourt II

View of truck from the Spanish Red Cross bringing water

On Wednesday, the Housing Rights Team accompanied an IJDH representative to an IDP camp located on private land.  It was our first visit to such a camp and an incredible opportunity to speak directly with those most affected by the threat of forced eviction.  We spent time talking to the camp committee about conditions in Barbancourt II and the residents’ interactions with the landlord.  It was an eye-opening experience.

The camp is home to 310 families who have lived in Barbancourt II since last year’s 12 January earthquake.  The site is an industrial park that houses a warehouse.  Camp residents have been pushed to a small corner of the property so that the landlord may continue to operate his business.  Shelters made of tarps (many with the USAID logo), salvaged wood, and corrugated metal stand so close they’re nearly touching, but camp residents have stayed because they have nowhere else to go.

Speaking with camp committee members and camp residents, we heard of a series of increasingly violent interactions with the property owner.  The most violent occurred in November 2010, when the landlord came to the property with a group of armed men.  Recently, the landlord told residents that they have until three days after the elections (on Sunday, March 20, 2011) to leave the camp.

The stagnant pool contains human and other waste
A stagnant, fetid pool of wastewater several feet deep lies at the back of the property and exacerbates the already poor conditions.  Tents abut the edges of this pool and during the rainy season the water raises to touch the edges of tents.  Those living closest to the pool have developed skin rashes and complain of the multitude of mosquitoes bred in the water. 

Residents have repeatedly asked the landlord to drain the pool, but to no avail.  Taking matters into their own hands, residents tried to drill a small hole in one of the property walls to drain the water.  However, the owner of the adjacent land is a friend of the landlord and threatened to shoot camp residents if they continued their efforts.  Camp committee members believe that the landlord has allowed the pool to form as another means of forcing residents off his property. 

For now, water is brought into Barbancourt II by the Spanish Red Cross, which also provided the camp’s latrines.  However, the Red Cross has told the camp committee members that the contract to purchase water for the camp has run out and that they will soon have to organize a way to purchase water.  With the rainy season looming on the horizon, camp residents face an imminent end to their water supply and increased threats of eviction. 

The camp committee meeting tent
Yet, even in the face of these problems camp residents are anything but passive ‘victims of circumstance.’  They have organized themselves and selected a camp committee to represent their needs and views to humanitarian organizations and the Haitian government.  At their own initiative, the camp committee contacted both the Ministry of the Interior and IJDH to seek assistance in negotiations with the landlord to delay eviction.  The unity and resilience of camp residents was inspiring.  Hopefully, the information we collected during our time in Haiti can help CCR and IJDH to better equip residents in their fight against eviction.

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