Homeless Haitians: aid halted to force them out

Published February 23, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Homeless victims of Haiti's earthquake said Monday that police are halting deliveries of food and water to try to force them to leave their camp on the grounds of the prime minister's office.

Police padlocked the main gate to the hillside camp, where about 2,500 homeless people live under bed sheets and tarps propped on sticks on the sloping hill leading to the office. Stinking garbage with swarms of flies was being allowed to pile up and portable latrines were filled, camp residents complained.

Witnesses said police beat 22-year-old Dalida Jeanty after she picked up a broom to sweep around her tent. "They called her and she did not come so they beat her," said her cousin, Alix Jeanty.

He was among the friends and relatives who carried the woman down the hill, where U.N. peacekeepers from Chile and India arranged for her to be taken to the hospital.

A police officer guarding the gate to the prime minister's office refused to give his name or comment on the alleged beating. Nor would he discuss accusations they have been turning away trucks carrying food and water for the past 10 days.

Calls to the Information Ministry on Monday were unanswered, as was an e-mail to the prime minister's chief aide.

"We've been here for a month and we were being treated well, but for the past two weeks we have been mistreated," said Markinson Midey, a 22-year-old student. "Anytime they bring food or water, the police make the trucks leave."

Midey and other residents, some of them shouting angrily and banging pans when they saw reporters, said they believe the government wants to make the camp conditions so bad that people will be forced to leave, even though they have nowhere else to go.

After reporters arrived, police opened the gate they'd locked.

Many government buildings were damaged in the Jan. 12 quake and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive is working out of the same office as President Rene Preval at a temporary government headquarters set up in the headquarters of the judicial police, near the airport.

The Jan. 12 earthquake killed about 200,000 people and left 1.2 million homeless, according to the government.

More than half a million people fled devastated Port-au-Prince, but 700,000 are living in every available piece of open land, from public squares and school yards to sidewalks, their only protection makeshift tents of sheets propped up by sticks.

There has been no evidence of any concerted government policy to forcibly remove the homeless from the many spontaneous settlements, however authorities have made it clear they plan to resettle the refugees as soon as more permanent camps can be established outside town.

Many inhabitants of the capital's miserable tent camps got soaked by an overnight downpour. Doctors say many children — half the population of Haiti is under 15 years — are suffering from colds, coughs and diarrhea.

Bellerive told The Associated Press last week that the government will be forced to appropriate private land to build better tent camps with tarpaulins.

But aid agencies taking part in a massive international effort to help victims say the government is dragging its feet even as the rainy season approaches and the need to get people out of congested camps that pose health risks and under proper cover becomes more urgent.

Written by FRANK BAJAK, Associated Press Writer

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