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Landowners force Haitians out of camps

Thousands of Haitians are being kicked out of camps — sometimes violently.

It is unclear exactly how many camps have been closed due to forced evictions.

A survey of 106 camps carried out last year by a City University of New York researcher found that 17 percent of camps had been forcibly closed.

Investigators from the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, a Haitian human rights group that provides legal assistance to victims, said violence was used in some cases.

The most jarring example was the April eviction of 2,500 people from a camp in the town of Croix des Bouquets, just outside Port-au-Prince. Armed Haitian police and a quasi-public construction and heavy equipment agency allegedly bulldozed through the camp in the dark without warning residents. Police fired guns and told residents to leave, the group said.

Surveys by the International Organization of Migration found that the number of camps peaked in July 2010 at 1,555 sites and fell to 1,150 in January. The number of people living in the camps also fell from 1.5 million in July to 810,000 in January.

Doyle could not say how many of those camps had closed due to evictions. Similarly, it’s impossible to tell how many of the 690,000 people who have left camps were evicted and, potentially, still homeless.

Patrice Florvilus, a human rights lawyer with Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, said no owner has received a court order to evict residents, which is legally required.

“Haitian people displaced by the earthquake, are legally entitled to housing. It’s a guaranteed right. But they don’t know this,” he said. “When a land owner tells them they have to leave — and they sometimes do it with violence — the people go because they think they’re doing something illegal by being there.”

Residents of the Henfrasa camp echoed that sentiment. “We don’t know what we’re going to do. They say they’re going to close the camp. I guess we’ll go to another camp or a different community,” said Derezil Jemina as she sat in front of her tent with friends, wearing a tight halter-top and a Jesus fish necklace.

They all came to the camp after the quake destroyed their homes thinking that it was a temporary step.

A year later, the makeshift homes still sit nearly on top of each other and a sense of permanency has begun to take hold. The homes receive electricity. Residents have set up shops — little convenience stores and one-room barbershops.

Deadlines for closing the camp — including the most recent of Jan. 31 — have come and gone, but each day brings new fears that a day of reckoning nears.

“People are scared. They think it’s going to turn violent,” said Amadis Walnez, who heads a committee of camp residents. The committee has contacted the Haitian police and the United Nations peacekeeping mission, which has increased patrols in the camp.

“But none of us know exactly what’s going to happen. ... There’s all this money that was sent to Haiti to help people like us, but nobody can figure out a solution.”