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The Race to Zero: How Prioritizing Closure of IDP Camps Aids and Abets Illegal and Forcible Evictions of Haitians 


By Mark Snyder, International Action Ties

It has been several months since false promises were used to lure forty-three displaced families from their makeshift shelters in the camp at Barbancourt 17. The men, women and children living there had fled to the mostly vacant construction lot following the devastating January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti. After facing repeated threats from the purported landowner that they would be forcibly evicted, the welcome option of an alternative place to live was proposed. Despite what you might expect, it wasn’t the man who claimed to own the land where the internally displaced persons (IDPs) were living who finally succeeded in removing them. Instead, they were deceived by the leading agency for coordination and management of Haiti’s displaced people: the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The IOM convinced the IDPs to pack their things and leave in rented buses for what turned out to be a long and disappointing trip, one that ended with them sleeping on the ground outside a police station. With these actions, the IOM side-stepped Haitian law and ignored the Guiding Principles of Internal Displacement. Is the IOM acting as the world's leading international organization for migration and "uphold[ing] the human dignity and well-being of migrants"(1) by "spreading best practices"(2)? Or are they complicit in forced evictions, and encouraging other humanitarian actors to be similarly complacent?

"I now have a good tent and no land to place it on."


September 28 was yet another in a series of deadlines set by the supposed landowner for the eviction of Camp Barbancourt 17. During previous threats, human right lawyer Mario Joseph advised the IDPs to return to their tarp and scrap sheet metal shelters so as to not be locked out from their camp. During previous illegal eviction attempts, this had proven to be an effective measure of passive resistance from the IDPs. The intention of the action is to force those who would evict displaced earthquake victims from public or private property to follow Haitian law and utilize the justice system, i.e. respect their rights. 

Often, those claiming to own land do not have the proper title for the property in question. It has been estimated that in as many as 70% of forced eviction cases, the land claims are disputable.(3) At the Justice of the Peace, where eviction cases have been challenged by Haitian human rights groups, the lack of a legitimate title would lead to a ruling favorable for the displaced. Utilizing the legal system is not only just, but is also proven to be of the most effective means of protecting the vulnerable displaced population against being displaced once again; protection which is a stated priority in the UN’s Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.(4) Unfortunately, the lack of clear land titles has also served as an incentive for those claiming the land to illegally remove IDPs with only a minimal amount of attention from the media or interference from the justice system. 

Using Haiti’s justice system seems to be the foundation of a proper response to the forced evictions of IDPs.  Successes have been achieved through these measures by the two major Haitian anti-eviction initiatives, through the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI, The Office of International Lawyers) and Fos Refleksyon ak Aksyon sou Koze Kay (FRAKKA, a Right-to-Housing Collective).

However on the morning of September 28, the forty-three families of Barbancourt 17 learned that IOM, the main international organization claiming to mediate threats of forceful eviction of IDPs, had other plans for them. After failed negotiations with the purported landowner, IOM arrived with 4 buses and one large box truck, and the IOM representatives claimed they had arranged to relocate the families to another camp. These turned out to be false promises. 

The families from camp Barbancourt 17 were taken to Camp Refugee, on the eastern outskirts of the Delmas neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. Though the IOM later claimed that they had approval from Camp Refugee, over twenty different families and camp committee members stated they had no prior knowledge of their camp being used for relocation. They explained they already had inadequate space, latrines that had been installed in May 2010 and were no longer functioning (leaving them to relieve themselves in plastic bags and dispose of them in a ravine to the east of the camp), and no free water distribution. Due to these conditions and fear of who was being brought into their already vulnerable community, they stated the camp was unable to accommodate the forty-three additional families.

Interviewed a week after the incident, people living in Camp Refugee expressed remorse, stating they knew how it felt to be evicted and re-displaced. Their camp had been partially evicted in April 2010 when a relocation camp was being developed for the displaced families being evicted from the grounds of Haiti's most prestigious school, Saint Louis de Gonzague.(5) They were the victims of violent coercion, death threats, and Haitian Government bulldozers which destroyed their makeshift shelters.

The camps in this area are well aware of their exclusion from the different facets of the disaster response. One example occurred during the same day of the above-mentioned eviction. While bulldozers destroyed tents, the Red Cross was placing wristbands on the IDPs that they called forward from an encircling crowd. The Red Cross refused to say for what reason these people were being “tagged" or what they may receive for wearing the wristband. Now again, with the relocation of an evicted camp, they were left in the dark. 

Numerous individuals interviewed from Camp Refugee stated that they felt the situation with the Barbancourt 17 IDPs could have been different had they been notified prior to their arrival on the morning of the 28th. But without prior coordination or participation within the two groups of the IDPs, there was instead misunderstanding, a brief shouting match, resulting in the families from Camp Barbancourt 17 climbed back aboard the IOM buses to continue their search for other options. 

IOM then brought the families to a large church in Piblen and asked if the families could stay the night. The church representatives refused. Finally, the Barbancourt IDPs were driven to the Fort Dimanche Haitian National Police (PNH) station, located on one of Port-au-Prince's main thoroughfares, Delmas 33. IOM representatives stated to the author that the decision to drop the families off at the police station was made by the Mayor of Delmas, Wilson Jeudy, who had been roundly criticized months earlier for sending a municipal force to violently evict and destroy camps located at Delmas 3 and the airport intersection (Kafou Ayopò).(6) 

After following the directives of the Mayor, IOM chose to give the families two options: they could sleep on the ground or on the buses.

That evening and the next morning, families made their way back to the Barbancourt 17 camp only to find the large door at the entrance of the land locked shut. The purported land owner felt his IDP problems had been solved.(7) The IDPs reassembled on the road outside of the lot where they had lived for nearly two years. Some stayed in broken down vehicles awaiting repair, others squatted in the roofless shell of unfinished cinder block homes. Many arranged makeshift shelters in alleyways from scraps of tarp and other material they could find. 

When the IDPs contacted members of the anti-eviction initiatives and explained what occurred, the neglect seemed too obscene to believe, even for IOM that has a reputation among the displaced of being far from perfect. Working in the camps, one can often hear the frustration of residents who perceive the IOM as "doing nothing" and "only passing by”. However, the claims by the IDPs of Barbancourt were confirmed by IOM's camp management team. Camp Management Officer (CMO) leadership assured a human rights worker that IOM was doing all it could to fix the situation.

On October 12, a full two weeks after the IOM cleared the camp, the IOM camp management team called for a meeting with the evicted IDPs from Barbancourt 17 at a property on Delmas 19. Having lost faith in IOM's intentions, camp leadership requested that members of the BAI anti-eviction initiative participate. The meeting opened with an IOM representative complaining that the IOM CMO team said they would only meet with three people and twelve (5 women/7 men) had arrived to discuss their relocation. The IDPs were told that the Mayor of Delmas was offering a piece of land in Delmas 19 for their resettlement for a period of three months. Promises of latrines and water were made, though specifics were lacking (i.e. Who would de-sludge the portable latrines? Who would provide water?).

Observing the meeting, one could see that it was not meant to be inclusive of the opinions of Haitian IDPs. Instead it was another example of a group with material and political capital dictating what would become of the lives of the poor.  The meeting quickly deteriorated to a yelling match between frustrated IDPs and defensive IOM representatives (those that could speak Creole). It concluded with some of the IDPs believing there was a possibility for them on the property, while others stated that IOM had no intentions to help them - rather, for the IOM, the closed camp represented a problem solved.

An additional two weeks passed before the IDPs of Camp Barbancourt 17 were informed that the land in Delmas 19 was no longer an option for them. They had been on the street as a direct result of IOM's actions for nearly a month at this point, and despite the IOM effectively assisting in their eviction, no observable action to rectify the situation had been taken. The families were angry and discouraged at their situation. On October 25, IOM delivered tents to ten families, the next day they delivered two more. The IDPs reported that they were told that this was all the additional help that IOM could provide. One discouraged woman from the camp, Nadege, said: "I now have a good tent and no land to place it on."

When the IOM CMO was contacted by the author on October 29, he confirmed that the land was no longer available and that they were giving the tents to the families to relieve their situation. Thirty-eight in total were given. Delmas Mayor Wilson Jeudy would be making the decisions for the camp from here on; the IDPs were again removed from any part of the process of determining their own fate.

"Serious risk of human rights violations"


Acknowledging that the situation of Haiti’s displacement camps is layered with complexity, as all human interaction tends to be, is no excuse for ignoring the most basic and fundamental standards set by experts on the subject of displacement. After the earthquake, IDP encampments quickly became almost inhabitable despite the hundreds of thousands of families with no alternatives. As the United Nations independent expert on internal displacement, Dr Walter Kalin, has stated, "Experience from other natural disasters teaches us that there is a serious risk of human rights violations when the displaced cannot return to their homes or find new ones after some weeks or months. In the context of natural disasters, discrimination and violations of economic, social and cultural rights can become more entrenched the longer displacement lasts." (8)  

Note that Dr Kalin referenced the time frame of "weeks or months." Families displaced by Haiti's earthquake have faced two full years in the encampments. They live in danger of an imported cholera epidemic, often with no water or sanitation services provided. The weak transitional shelter programs have left most living under ripped tarps and scraps of material, exposed to unforgiving and harsh tropical weather. Today, the discrimination and violations of rights that Dr Kalin warned about can be witnessed in nearly every one of the 801 camps that remain.(9)

Camp closure has been stated as a priority in Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) cluster meetings since early 2010, leading it to become both policy and a measure of success. Though the camps should be closed, the race to zero camps left in Haiti is blinding the organizations to the harm-producing precedents they are setting in disaster response. Improperly and hastily closing a camp, whether by eviction, through small coercive payments for people to leave, or via an incomplete relocation program does not represent harm reduction or "building back better." The consequences of the catastrophic initial displacement are simply transferred or magnified in other settings and left to fester.

When an influential inter-government organization such as the IOM creates policy that places power in the hands of the purported landowners during evictions, side-stepping Haitian law and the rights of the IDPs, a pattern of recurring crisis is bound to emerge, be it after a failed negotiation or after a "successful" three month extension for the IDPs before the next threats of eviction begin. 

"The system must change"


Despite the complexity of forced evictions of IDPs, there are relatively simple solutions that can be implemented. For the international community and other authorities responding to the ongoing disaster, this begins with adhering to the Guiding Principles of Internal Displacement. Though the Principles are not a binding instrument, they do reflect and are consistent with existing international law.(10)

The Guiding Principles were referenced by the head of the UN's Humanitarian Affairs in Haiti, Nigel Fisher, after the eviction in Port-au-Prince at Camp Sylvio Cator executed by Haitian authorities in early September. Fisher stated: "the humanitarian community in Haiti reiterates its opposition to forced evictions, which only exacerbate existing vulnerabilities of camp populations,” and “it recalls that eviction of displaced persons without adequate housing alternatives is a violation of their rights, as outlined in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.”(11) 

Mr. Fisher’s recommendations failed to impact the IOM who removed the displaced families from Barbancourt 17, leading them into even more vulnerable conditions. Independent UN Expert on human rights in Haiti, Michel Forst, "urged that the police receive clear instructions not to support the forced eviction of people living in formal and informal camps, outside of procedures established by Haitian law, regardless of whether camps are on public or private land.”12 These same clear instructions need to be delivered to the IOM. 

Even though the eviction at Sylvio Cator also violated the rights of the IDPs, they at the very least received minimal funding and another plot of land for resettlement. Those evicted from Barbancourt 17 were not provided such "luxuries." For months, many resided scattered on the street and many have now moved into other camps. Failing to address the violations perpetrated by the IOM encourages other organizations to follow their example. This is not insignificant considering that the IOM was given responsibility of OCHA's main coordination tool in the disaster response, the Camp Coordination Camp Management (CCCM) cluster. 

As the UN's independent IDP expert Walter Kalin explained, "Often, these violations are not consciously planned and instigated but result from inappropriate policies. They could, therefore, be easily avoided if the relevant human rights guarantees were taken into account from the outset."(13)

Acknowledging the severe problem of evictions is of the utmost importance to begin the discussion that will lead to repairing policy that is clearly broken. However, the September 11, 2011 OCHA Humanitarian Bulletin, a main source of information for organizations responding to the disaster,14 did not even contain the word "eviction" or make any reference to the issue – despite one in every four camps being under threat of eviction according to reports.(15)

IOM's bimonthly Displacement Tracking Matrix16 summary for September 2011 only contained the word "eviction" a single time in the following paragraph:

"Of the sites that were identified as closed for this period (97 sites), the most common reasons reported included: 1) evictions (15 sites); 2) return or relocation support was provided (13 sites). However, for this period most sites were identified as empty upon time of assessments and no additional information was available regarding the reasons for closure (69 sites)."(17)

It is disturbing that evictions are the number one reason for camp closures. Even more disturbing is the unknown fate of the sixty-nine sites that were closed without explanation. They vanished without a trace and the whereabouts of the IDPs are unknown.  OCHA appears to see these closures as solutions to the IDP issue - additional camps to check off the list for their countdown to zero. 

The IOM produced a flow chart to follow during threats of eviction, however human rights lawyers with the two Haitian anti-eviction initiatives have pointed out that these place far too much power in the hands of those claiming to own the land by allowing them to forgo the judiciary process and enter directly into negotiations with the NGOs.

Insisting on the utilization of the Haitian justice system must remain a cornerstone for all those working with displaced individuals facing eviction, similar to what UN independent human rights expert Walter Kalin advised for the Haitian National Police. Negotiating with alleged landowners extra-legally affords them undue advantage in the process. After all, they have more capital and political clout than IDPs. Working with the justice system encourages adherence to specific laws that protect all rights, including those of the most vulnerable.

While there are references to the need for participation of the IDPs in settlement choices, they have rarely amounted to more than lip service. Meetings are conducted in languages Haitian IDPs do not speak or in gated-off offices that are inaccessible to the public. Such negotiations undermine IDPs' ability to defend their own rights. As the BAI and FRAKKA anti-eviction initiatives have proven, IDP participation is not only just, but is the only way to have successes in preventing evictions in a manner that builds rather than pulls apart communities.

The two initiatives also show that the inclusion of IDPs is a time-consuming, human process. Active participation and community-determined action requires hours of meetings, building trusting relationships, and attention to cultural differences. Aid workers have to let go of their egos and let the displaced take the lead. This will no doubt require effort from all sides. 

When IDP Kazo "Junior" Dieuliphete was asked about what needed to be done he quickly replied, "The IOM has stolen the rights and the conscience of the Haitian displaced. For them to repair what they have destroyed, they must work with the internally displaced people to change the actions of the Haitian Government and the NGOs. The NGOs and the UN have made a true mess in the camps. The system must change."

Perhaps organizations like the IOM do not respect IDP voices because they don't believe, in the end, that the IDP's rights can be fully realized. Or perhaps they fear that they will, which inevitably means the camps will remain for a longer period of time while proper solutions are found. It is hard to imagine the IOM being willing to consider this alternative as it would undermine the what they often point to as the lone "positive" from the disaster response,18 the decreasing numbers in the camps – the race to zero.

For more information about the situation in Barbancourt 17, see: Where There is No Will: Haiti's Internally Displaced and A Tale of Eviction in Haiti



1. IOM Mission and Strategic Focus. Available at http://www.iom.int/jahia/Jahia/about-iom/mission/lang/en

2. IOM Fact Sheet: Haiti Earthquake Displacement and Shelter Strategy http://www.iom.int/jahia/webdav/shared/shared/mainsite/published_docs/brochures_and_info_sheets/IOMFactSheet.pdf
3. Isabeau Doucet. We're Tired of Sleeping on Garbage. Originally Published in Haiti Liberte: August 11 – 17, 2010, Vol. 4, No. 4; August 25 – 31, 2010, Vol. 4, No. 6. http://dizzyshambles.wordpress.com/page/5/
4. OCHA Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement http://www.unhcr.org/43ce1cff2.html . Specifically relevant are Guiding Principles 5 and 7.
5. Open Letter to Father Patrick Belanger, St. Louis de Gonzague, April 26, 2010, and Schuller, Mark. Sowing Seeds of Hope or Dependence? July 9, 2010. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-schuller/sowing-seeds-of-hope-ors_b_640679.html, and Memorandum: IDP Forced Removal and Relocation Updates - International Action Ties. TransAfrica Forum. April 12, 2010. http://www.transafricaforum.org/policy-overview/where-we-work/haiti-earthq-2010/forced-idp-reloc-memo-41210
6. Bri Kouri Nouvel Gaye, “Violent and Destructive Eviction at the Kafou Ayopo, Haiti,” May 23, 2011, available at http://brikourinouvelgaye.com/2011/05/23/violent-and-destructive-eviction-at-the-kafou-ayopo-haiti. Also Mark Schuller and Mark Snyder, “Between the Storms? Thousands of Haitian IDPs Are Still at Risk of Forced Eviction,” Common Dreams, June 18, 2011, available at http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/06/18-7.
7. Information from Justin Podur's "The eviction of Barbancourt 17" was confirmed by during interviews with those involved. Available at http://www.killingtrain.com/node/81.
8. Kalin, Walter. Natural Disasters and IDP Rights. Available at www.unhchr.ch/html/menu2/7/b/principles_lang.htm
9. IOM CCCM Displacement Tracking Matrix September 30, 2011. Update July-September 2011. The report has 802 IDP camps in existence. The author subtracted camp Barbancort 17 to reach 801.
10. Kalin, Walter. Annotations to the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. The American Society of International Law and The Brookings Institution Project on Internal Displacement, 2000. http://www.asil.org/pdfs/study_32.pdf. While the Guiding Principles are not themselves a legally binding document, its provisions are rooted in legally binding conventions that have been ratified by the Haitian government, including the CCPR, the CRC, and CEDAW.
11. Haiti: UN concerned at forcible evictions of quake survivors from camps. Available at http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=39526&Cr=haiti&Cr1
12. Ibid.
13. Walter Kalin. Natural Disasters and IDP Rights. Available at www.unhchr.ch/html/menu2/7/b/principles_lang.htm
14. UN OCHA Haiti Humanitarian Bulletin 11. September 21-October 18, 2011. This bulletin also states that access to water and sanitation continues to deteriorate in IDP camps.
15. CCCM, “Haiti—Nearly One Quarter of Those Still Homeless in Haiti Threatened with Eviction,” press release, available at http://www.cccmhaiti.info/z_nearly_one_quater_of_those_still_homeless_haiti_threatened_eviction.php.
16.The Displacement Tracking Matrix is a monitoring tool to track IDP movement and update on conditions in the camps for the CCCM partners.
17. IOM CCCM Displacement Tracking Matrix September 30, 2011. Update July-September 2011
18. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/24/red-cross-earthquake-haiti-where-did-the-money-go_n_1228334.html . For a more indepth look at the Red Cross's response, see Center for Economic and Policy Research's post at: http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/relief-and-reconstruction-watch/why-doesnt-the-american-red-cross-want-people-to-see-qhaiti-where-did-the-money-goq


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