IOM gets internal reporting on Haiti camp eviction case all wrong

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is one of the most powerful organizations today in Haiti. It’s the UN-affiliated agency principally responsible (theoretically, under the direction of the Haitian government) for managing the internally displaced population of around 2 million people who lost their homes in January’s earthquake, including the Palais de L’Art camp – pictured at right at a time when the landowner was preventing access to the camp with padlocks and razor wire.

At the end of May the IOM created a new website called “Camp Management Operations (CMO) in Haiti” to share data from small teams that have fanned out across Port-au-Prince trying to resolve problems in camps as they arise. The site’s disclaimer notes, “All the reports within this blog are open for viewing and comment by the public.” Journalists like myself and other aid workers appreciated this step towards transparency.

But the site has been deliberately hidden from search engines. This is a setting that authors turn on by checking a box from within the WordPress backend, blocking sites like Google from including it in its search results and rendering it almost invisible on the Internet to anyone who hasn’t already received the link to the website’s address.

Someone does not want this website to be easily accessible by the public. The blog’s posts are not open to comments and navigating the archives is unnecessarily difficult. There’s a mismatch between the site’s stated objectives and its actual function, it seems. (The site is in English and French, not kreyol, of course.)

June 22 saw the release of another weekly CMO report on the site. There are separate teams for each commune in Port-au-Prince and they each contribute sections to the report. Under the Delmas section (one of the largest, densest areas in the city), a prominent link appears:

See the presentation on Palais de l’art eviction case

The link goes to a 9-slide presentation. Readers of this site may remember Palais de L’Art from my last report for Inter-Press Service about camp-dwellers on private property being threatened by landowners. I witnessed the IOM’s involvment in that case over the course of several visits to the camp during May and June.

What’s shown in this presentation misrepresents what I and other aid workers saw happen first-hand. Let’s take it slide by slide.

No. The landowner began threatening the community with eviction back in March, long before the IOM’s CMO team began visiting the camp.

This is the most offensive slide here. The woman in the center is named Mildred Temistocle, the official “community mobilizer” of IOM’s CMO Delmas team. Most camp residents, pictured around her, were never treated as participants in the resolution process with the landowner. They watched the IOM come and go each day as tension escalated, including physical attacks by the landowner on individuals, and complained the IOM was doing nothing (“OIM pap fe anyen!” was and still is a common refrain).

During a typical negotiation session, Mildred spoke English with the landowner so that her boss sitting beside her could understand, while the camp’s leadership committee (four people) sat across from them in silence for long stretches – inside the landowner’s building. I had to prompt her multiple times to translate for them. She doubted the camp’s claims that 500 people reside there, when the IOM’s own assessment confirmed this. There was no community mobilization of any kind (“it’s an embarrassment to the term,” one aid worker commented). More below.

This one is good for a laugh. IOM arranged with Oxfam to visit the camp on a Saturday morning and “clean the camp.” Indeed, they tidied it up and added some rock to help people build canals around their shelters to deal with the rain.

But the BEFORE and AFTER photos present this as a significant contribution to the health of the camp. There was never any noticeable lasting difference. There is still scattered trash (compared to many other camps, the Palais de L’Art families keep their area quite clean) and people continue to deal with water seeping in beneath their shelters from heavy rains. The camp remains as it has been since the earthquake.

The only accurate slide here, listing the groups participating in the negotiation process. (Update: A source intimately involved in the Palais de L’Art camp management process informs me that this slide is inaccurate. It omits multiple organizations that were intermittently involved in negotiations with the landowner, including UN police.)

Huge omission here that I cannot imagine being accidental. This agreement was contingent on the expulsion from the camp of one individual on the say-so of the landowner. Reynold Jean was a camp committee member at Palais de L’Art (his nearby house, like everyone else’s, collapsed in the quake) who led the opposition to the landowner’s threats. He’s quoted in my last report:

“If we had another place to go, we wouldn’t stay here suffering like this,” said Reynold Louis-Jean, who heads the camp organising committee. “We have elders, handicapped people, people who lost limbs. Now we have to carry them for them to get in and out.”

“He’s trying to force us out now. We can’t accept this,” he said as families carried buckets of water over the wall. The Red Cross stopped delivering water to the camp.

When the landowner’s wife entered the camp and tried to cut open the camp’s water bladder, Reynold denounced it. When the landowner hit a young man with sticks, he denounced it. When the landowner locked the gate shut and blocked people from climbing over a wall into the camp with razor wire, he denounced it. And when the landowner bashed in Reynold’s makeshift shelter one night, his infant girl lying inside, he angrily condemned him and tried to file a report with the police. A photo that evening of the structure’s bent support pole is here. The landowner admitted to all of this.

The landowner eventually backed down from his demand that the entire camp be removed from his property, but insisted that Reynold be moved out of the camp if he was going to sign any agreement. The humanitarian needs of the camp’s community became pitted against the right of one individual against further displacement. Rather than “mobilize” the camp community against this demand, AMI and IOM gave in quickly, giving Reynold some hygeine kits and ushering him down the block to another camp.

Nice looking photo with a glossy tint, eh? The camp looks rather more squalid when you’re on the ground. This photo must have been taken from atop the Palais de L’art nightclub, the landowner’s adjacent building.

I don’t know what this slide is supposed to mean, but it seems rather useless…

…because while Camp Palais de L’art did withstand threats of eviction by the landowner, with the help of IOM, none of the ‘next steps’ outlined above have been taken. I visited the camp this past weekend. Their spirits were temporarily buoyed with the threat of eviction gone. But now it’s the same old, same old. They said the last time IOM visited was a few weeks ago. They expected to receive new tarps to replace their months-old plastic sheets that are worn and tearing. They expected the installation of latrines. So far, nothing.

The scarcity of detail in this presentation leads me to think it was used in an inter-group meeting to explain (someone stood up, pointing to the bullet points and expanding on them) the Palais de L’art case to other aid workers. But for the record, what’s shown in the slides is misleading and I doubt that whoever presented gave a full accounting of what happened.

11 thoughts on “IOM gets internal reporting on Haiti camp eviction case all wrong”

  1. Excellent reporting! Thank you, and keep up the great work! The world needs to see what REALLY going on in Haiti, and you are one of the few doing it.

  2. Very fine reporting, Ansel. Thank you.

    Of course behind it all is the question of how a handful of rich people, who don’t go hungry and never sleep in the mud, can claim the legal nicety of owning land that thousands of other people need just to stay alive. “Property is theft,” Pierre-Joseph Proudhon wrote 150 years ago. The context was different but maybe it applies as well today in Haiti.

  3. Thanks for the feedback, folks, I really appreciate it. Wasn’t sure whether to post this. But I do think it’s symptomatic of a larger problem with these organizations, continually trying to hide inconvenient details that don’t fit perfectly into their controlled, simplistic donor-friendly narratives about relief work here.

    (Cross-posted to Haiti Rewired.)

  4. Finally, found the place to comment.
    EXCELLENT report…..Can you repost some
    on FB or Flickr? I am certain most people don’t
    understand the “process” of “Aid Workers”..and
    faked up plans that never materialize +added +
    landowners who think they are still in the 18th Century.
    The process is imposed on people who are helpless
    by people who have some power–to basically stall any
    innovative or real accomplishments. There are no building
    materials, or land or contruction workers–only “Aid Workers”…
    This is the “model” or “templet” we have been suffering under
    since the Reagan-Clinton-Bush era of doing nothing for people–
    but fill cush jobs for administrators and “workers”..who do no
    actual work. Thus nothing gets done–but the people appointed to
    these positions go to “work” day in day out—while we all wait for
    a “Change”. Millions of people must have wanted it badly to have
    voted for the “change” and “hope” guy. As you so clearly describe the
    situation in the camps–the basic Reagan–Obama framework is still
    the same!

  5. Dear Ansel – I only just stumbled upon Mediahacker and have begun devouring the extraordinary, courageous, and very insightful reporting about the real situation on the ground in Haiti that you have done and are doing.

    May I ask if we can post some of it on our site,

    Louis Wolf

  6. Hi,
    I might have missed this somewhere, but I’m wondering which part of Delmas this camp is, exactly?

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