Haiti: prioritising human rights for the displaced
14 January 2013

In the last three years JRS has accompanied displaced people in seven camps in Port-au-Prince and in Haitian communities in Fonds-Parisien, Anse-à-Pitres and Los Cacaos through a wide range of programmes. Automeca camp, Port-au-Prince, Haiti (Peter Balleis/JRS)

Bogotá, Rome, Washington DC, Port-au-Prince, 14 January 2013 – Three years after the 12-January earthquake that struck Haiti, approximately 400,000 displaced people continue to live in vulnerable situations and without protection in camps in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and the surrounding areas. The Jesuit Refugee Service expresses great concern, because the rights and appropriate guarantees for protection of displaced persons, as defined in the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, continue to be ignored.

Twenty-one percent of the displaced population faces a constant threat of expulsion by owners of the land where the displaced were housed in camps after the tragedy. In addition, many other problems affect this population including: cholera, food insecurity, flooding and mudslides during hurricane season and precarious living conditions.

The Jesuit Refugee Service expresses great concern, because the rights and appropriate guarantees for protection of displaced persons, as defined in the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, continue to be ignored. Thus, displaced persons in Haiti are amongst the most vulnerable group and have a growing need for protection.

On the third anniversary of the earthquake, JRS urgently calls on Haitian authorities, donor countries and agencies, humanitarian organizations and other actors in the international community to prioritize the human rights of displaced persons, principally their right to life, security, food, education, health, and housing.

JRS urges the Haitian authorities and competent international agencies to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to all displaced persons, especially for those most vulnerable such as pregnant women, youth and the elderly. Similarly, JRS invites them to work with this displaced population to quickly establish the conditions and mediums for reintegration into society, as established in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

The tents can withstand nothing. After three years, it is intolerable that so many people remain in tents within camps and in temporary housing. The deplorable living conditions of the displaced persons in camps are incompatible with respect to their dignity as human beings.

In Automeca, one of the biggest camps of the Haitian capital where 1,307 families still live, "all of the tents are in the worst conditions, they can withstand nothing", said Wismith Lazard SJ, director of the JRS projects in seven camps in Port-au-Prince.

"It is true that there have been several attempts to relocate the camp population; but, so far no definitive solutions to the problem of the closure of all the camps and housing in general have been agreed on. Everything appears to indicate that the closure of all the camps and relocation of the displaced to permanent housing will not come tomorrow", said the Haitian Jesuit.

Programmes must be structured based on local needs. Despite the enormous problems displaced people face in the camps, they are struggling to rebuild their lives. In the last three years JRS has accompanied displaced people in seven camps in Port-au-Prince and in Haitian communities in Fonds-Parisien, Anse-à-Pitres and Los Cacaos through a wide range of programmes. We have been witnessing the creativity of the local communities and their capacity to rebuild their own destinies if the windows of opportunity are opened up to them.

The key is to accompany local communities and listen to them in order to find out how to help them respond to their own needs and demands. Programmes must be structured based on local needs, and not on what outsiders think may be necessary.

Forgetting is a great threat for Haiti. As time passes, Haiti fades from the international agenda.

"The international non-governmental organisations are increasingly abandoning many of the camps or reducing their projects and action plans for lack of funds, while the situation of the country has not substantially improved and the outlook is still sombre for the displaced persons", said Merlys Mosquera, JRS Latin America and the Caribbean Director.

"Forgetting is a great threat for Haiti", said Mosquera.

The third anniversary of the earthquake should be a stop along the way to remember Haiti, intensify solidarity with the Haitian people and focus international cooperation with this country on the human rights of the displaced people affected by the earthquake and other successive natural catastrophes.





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James Stapleton
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