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Displacing the Displaced: Results of Current Policy in Haiti

(NNPA) - Last week, I asked a young journalist why he decided several months ago to begin his career in Haiti. He told me that journalists must go where the silence is. For years I have been a student of Haiti, and I have observed the unbearable silence that threatens every Haitian, both in Haiti and abroad.

There was silence as Haitians were brutalized by their colonial oppressors. Silence as dictators cannibalized the resources the Haitian people. Silence as fleeing Haitians are interdicted at sea and returned to Haiti with little hope for their futures.

Today, the international community has again fallen silent in the face of the forced removal, and the second displacement, of Haitians living in Port au Prince. As the camera bulbs dim and Haiti falls back into media obscurity, thousands of Haitians are victims of forced displacement and threats of violence.

After surviving the terrible earthquake in January, and seeking refuge in public areas, at schools and on soccer fields, many surviving families are now being forced out without adequate alternatives. Currently over a thousand people at the San Louis de Gonzague School in Delmas outside of Port au Prince are being forced to leave the soccer grounds so the school can be reopened. While reopening the school is a laudable goal, no provisions of land have been made for the displaced families. Food and water rations have been cut off to coerce these families to leave, and violence by both Haitian and UN forces has been repeatedly threatened against these victims.

The Gonzague School, home to the financial and intellectual elites, has educated the children of the most well connected in Haiti. Ironically, to open this school again, a school founded by the displaced families which educates 1100 children must close. Removals of the displaced have also been threatened in the most notable areas of the city such as the Champ de Mars, an area adjacent to the National Palace where every national celebration has been held for the past 200 years. Over the past few weeks, this scenario has played over and over again.

First time you are hearing about this latest atrocity? Not a surprise. While billions of dollars have been raised in the name of the people of Haiti, thousands of those same Haitians are now being displaced again -- not at the hand of nature but at the hand of men.

When people are displaced because of conflict or disaster, there is always the risk that this vulnerable population might be victimized or even displaced again. Because of this, the UN General Assembly unanimously endorsed standards for the international community to follow while dealing with an IDP crisis.

According to these standards, the displaced population must be fully informed and must be empowered to play an active role in their relocation. In most cases in Haiti, the people are being starved out or threatened with violence. It appears that the UN -- the body charged with protection and aid -- has at best turned a blind eye to the removals, and at worst is aiding in them.

Without a doubt, the worldwide outpouring of compassion for Haiti was unprecedented. Regular people cared and gave. Over 50% of American households donated money, with comparable numbers worldwide. The world community anticipated a response that would protect lives and bring the people back to wholeness.

But despite the compassion and donations, these relocations are happening without a peep from the international media or community. As we pat ourselves on the back for our generosity, a plan has been unleashed to quiet yet brutally move undesirable people out of desirable areas. We must ask how Haiti can possibly recover when Haitians are treated in this manner. A Haitian centered approach is the only way to build Haiti back better. If these forced relocations are any indication, we are already off to a very rocky start.

[Nicole C. Lee is the Executive Director of TransAfrica Forum.]


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