Since Haiti was struck by a devastating earthquake in 2010, an estimated 59,000 Haitians have been granted Temporary Protected Status, which allows the nationals of countries designated unsafe due to “extraordinary and temporary” conditions to live and work legally in the United States. But in November 2017, the Trump administration abruptly terminated TPS for Haitians, setting off multiple battles in court. If the government prevails, current Haitian TPS recipients — many of whom have children who are U.S. citizens — could be deported to a country that is now in the midst of an escalating crisis.
A federal judge, in temporarily blocking the policy in April, found evidence that the decision was made in “bad faith” by Trump’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which went “fishing for reasons” to end Haitians’ eligibility for TPS and ignored relevant facts about the persistence of hazardous conditions in the country. Haiti remains vulnerable to deadly diseases like cholera, Hurricane Matthew only exacerbated the post-earthquake housing crisis, and a political standoff has caused widespread food and fuel shortages, forcing hospitals to cut services or close entirely. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge William Kuntz also said there was evidence to suggest that “a discriminatory purpose of removing non-white immigrants from the United States was a motivating factor behind the decision.” The Trump administration is now appealing Kuntz’s injunction and defending the termination of Haiti’s TPS designation in four separate lawsuits.
statistics distort the experiences of Haitians in the wake of the earthquake, erasing evidence of suffering, dysfunction, and even death…
In justifying its move to strip Haitians of their protected status, the administration has seized on statistics produced by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an intergovernmental agency that counted 96 % fewer people living in camps for internally displaced people in Haiti in 2016 than in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.
But according to a months long investigation by The Intercept and Type Investigations, those statistics profoundly distort the experiences of Haitians in the wake of the earthquake, erasing evidence of persistent suffering, dysfunction, and even death to present a narrative of “progress” that justifies the return of tens of thousands to dangerous conditions.
“Ninety-six percent of people displaced by the earthquake … have left those camps,” James McCament, as acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), wrote in an April 2017 memo, concluding, “Haiti has made significant progress in recovering from the 2010 earthquake, and no longer continues to meet the conditions for designation.” While DHS had consistently extended Haiti’s TPS designation by the maximum 18 months each time it came up for renewal, McCament advised DHS to issue only a six-month extension. The department’s then-secretary, John Kelly, complied, also citing the 96 % reduction in the population of IDP camps as evidence of “progress.” When Kelly’s successor, acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke, terminated Haiti’s TPS designation altogether that November, she likewise cited this decrease to support her claim that the hazardous conditions that led to Haiti’s designation no longer existed.
When one of the lawsuits challenging this termination went to trial in January, IOM’s statistics were the first item of evidence that the lead attorney representing Trump, Duke, and the U.S. government presented to support his argument that the decision to terminate TPS for Haitians was lawful and justified. During the trial, another government attorney referred to the “decline of the numbers of people living in camps” as “a sign of progress.”
Interviews for this article with dozens of Haitians who lived in IDP camps after losing their homes in the 2010 earthquake call these claims into question. We found that the vast majority of these earthquake-displaced Haitians still do not have safe or adequate shelter and are now living in informal settlements where they lack access to basic services. Many of them, far from voluntarily leaving the camps, were violently evicted. After examining the conditions in just four of the 1,555 camps where displaced Haitians lived, we found evidence that at least 32 individuals had died in these camps. Yet IOM does not keep track of such deaths, the organization confirmed. The evicted, the dangerously housed, and many of the dead, we found, are counted in that 96 % decrease in camp population as evidence of “progress.”
IOM is now using the flawed system it developed in Haiti to track people displaced by conflict and disaster in a host of other countries around the world.
Adeline Geffrard, her 1-year-old son, her parents, her two sisters, and her brother were among the more than 1.5 million Haitians IOM initially counted in Haiti’s IDP camps. After the January 2010 earthquake destroyed the Geffrards’ home in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, the seven members of Adeline’s family took refuge in Parc Jean Marie Vincent, a sports park that transformed into Haiti’s largest displacement camp. The Geffrards fashioned a makeshift tent out of a tarp they were given by an aid group. Through constant exposure to the burning Caribbean sun, however, the plastic sheet soon began to wear through and rip, leaving the family with little protection from the downpours of Haiti’s rainy season that spring or the cyclones that hit the camp during hurricane season that fall.
The camp where Adeline’s family lived was one of many that formed in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, as survivors fleeing the debris of their collapsing homes and neighborhoods took refuge on any available piece of land in Port-au-Prince. According to a 2010 study of conditions in about 100 IDP camps in Haiti by researchers from the City University of New York and the Université d’État d’Haïti, only 10 % of families living in these camps had so much as a proper tent for shelter; 90 % were sleeping under tarps or even bedsheets. Meanwhile, 40 % of camps did not have access to water, while 30 % did not have toilets of any kind. These conditions made camp residents particularly vulnerable when cholera broke out in Haiti in October 2010, after sewage from a base housing infected United Nations peacekeepers made its way into an important Haitian water source.
In the first few months after the earthquake, NGOs occasionally distributed food staples such as rice to residents of the camp in Parc Jean Marie Vincent. “They would pass by and give us a bit of food,” Adeline recalled. However, on more than one occasion, she returned to her family’s tent empty-handed after waiting in line because there wasn’t enough food to go around. “We stood under the sun but didn’t get anything,” she explained.
as was the case in IDP camps across Haiti, services diminished after the first year after the quake.
A 2010 study by Partners in Health showed that prior to the cholera outbreak, medical services and water distribution in Parc Jean Marie Vincent met the minimum standards identified in the Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response, an influential set of guidelines developed by humanitarian NGOs. However, the study also showed that “food, shelter, sanitation, and security were below minimum accepted standard and of major concern.” While the guidelines specify that that there should be at least one toilet for every 50 people, there were only 115 latrines in the camp, whose population was estimated to be about 48,000 in the months after the earthquake. This amounted to about one latrine for every 400 residents — just one-eighth of the minimum needed to ensure basic sanitation. Adeline still has a clear memory of these latrines, which became so filthy that many residents considered them unsafe. “They were all clogged,” she recalled, scrunching up her nose in disgust. “[It was] terrible.”
When Adeline finally left the camp, in early 2014, only five of the seven members of her family were still alive. “I lost my big sister,” she said softly, in Kreyòl, “and then I lost my father.” In December 2013, Adeline’s sister Ninese suddenly developed terrible diarrhea and began vomiting. The family brought her to a hospital, where a doctor confirmed that she had cholera. After a week, Ninese appeared to have gotten better and was released. However, her symptoms returned. Ninese died in Parc Jean Marie Vincent just as her family was making arrangements for someone to drive her back to the hospital. She was 28.
A month later, Adeline’s father, Therus, went to the hospital after displaying symptoms of cholera and received treatment. “He was starting to feel a bit better,” Adeline recalled, so like her sister, he returned to the camp. A few days later, his symptoms, too, were back with a vengeance. According to Adeline, “He died right away.”
Dr. Louise Ivers, former senior health and policy adviser at Partners in Health, which ran a cholera treatment center in Parc Jean Marie Vincent, confirmed by email that “we did have deaths.” She declined to specify exactly how many cholera deaths occurred in the camp, which has since been closed through a formal relocation program administered by IOM. Ivers explained that this was “ministry of health data” and thus she would “not be able to share directly.”
Yet Dr. Patrick Dely, director of epidemiology at the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population, which tracks cholera deaths, said that his department does not actually know how many residents of camps like Parc Jean Marie Vincent died of cholera. The department records both cholera deaths that occur in institutional settings, such as hospitals and cholera treatment centers, and those that occur in community settings. But when asked about how many of those who died of cholera were IDP camp residents, Dely confirmed that his department “does not have the data.”
In Mega 4, another camp in Port-au-Prince that IOM has since closed through a relocation program, at least 12 people died of cholera, according to François Jesner, an elected member of the camp leadership committee who worked for five months in a cholera treatment center in the camp. As was the case in Parc Jean Marie Vincent, residents of Mega 4 had access to water, which was initially distributed for free, and some health care facilities, including a maternity clinic. But distribution of food staples only lasted a few weeks, according to Fritz Belance, another Mega 4 resident and member of the camp leadership committee. “Then the Haitian government asked for that to stop,” he recalled. On some level, Fritz considered the decision reasonable; it seemed logical that people should work to provide for their families. However, “there was no work,” he said. “There were people who couldn’t eat.” And as was the case in IDP camps across Haiti, he explained, other services diminished after the first year.
Life in Mega 4 took a particular toll on Fritz’s mother, Gèze Belance. For nearly six years, Gèze lived under the same tarp as her son. During this period, Fritz recalled, his mother’s health declined significantly, before her eventual death from an apparent heart attack in September 2015.
Clémane Joseph, who took refuge in Mega 4 with his daughter Mickerlange Joseph and her son after their home in Port-au-Prince was destroyed, also died in the camp. Clémane had been injured during the earthquake, when a concrete block fell on his foot as he escaped from his home carrying his 1-year-old grandson in his arms. During his years in the camp, the wound on Clémane’s foot became increasingly infected. On several occasions, his son Mara-Donal Joseph, a motorcycle taxi driver, brought Clémane to a hospital in Port-au-Prince. However, the hospital always charged fees for these visits, and neither Mara-Donal nor Mickerlange, whose meager earnings came from selling used clothing and cigarettes, could afford to keep paying. Mara-Donal remembered that his father’s foot appeared very red and swollen. Then the wound opened, and he could see the bones. “There were worms inside,” Mara-Donal recalled. By late 2012, Clémane was no longer able to walk. He died in Mega 4 on Dec. 28, 2014.
Twenty-nine-year-old Martineau Basil was also unable to access the medical care he needed in the camp where his family lived, according to his uncle Wilsson Basil. After the Basils’ home in Port-au-Prince was destroyed, the family took refuge in a camp in Champ de Mars, a public plaza at the heart of the Haitian capital. Martineau, who had suffered serious injuries when a concrete wall fell on him during the earthquake, died after less than a month in the camp, according to Wilsson.
In Tabarre Issa, one of Haiti’s remaining IDP camps, 15 camp residents have died since 2010, according to camp committee member Luxama Livenson. He cited poor living conditions as an important factor in these deaths in Tabarre Issa, where he says many residents lack access to food, clean drinking water, and medical care.
Given that conditions and services in other IDP camps in Haiti were generally no better than those in Tabarre Issa, Parc Jean Marie Vincent, or Mega 4, it seems likely that many others died in the more than 1,500 camps that formed in the aftermath of the earthquake. Many such deaths, including those of Martineau Basil, Therus and Ninese Geffrard, Gèze Belance, Clémane Joseph, and the 12 people who reportedly died of cholera in Mega 4, are officially counted as “progress” — part of that much-cited reduction in camp population. Others, like those who died in Tabarre Issa, are still being counted by IOM as part of the population living in IDP camps.
Displacement Tracking Matrix
Since the 2010 earthquake, IOM has collected data on Haiti’s displaced population through a system called the Displacement Tracking Matrix. According to Emmanuelle Deryce, an IOM operations officer, the first step the agency undertook in implementing this tracking system was to register the residents of every site IOM had identified as an IDP camp. The agency gathered information about each household in the camp, including the head of household, the total members, and their contact information, and issued each family an IDP registration card.
Whenever an IDP camp was closed through a relocation program, IOM or its partner agencies carried out an additional registration to determine who was still living in the camp and thus eligible for assistance. When IOM agents came to re-register the residents of Mega 4, Mickerlange informed them about the death of her father, who was identified on her family’s IDP registration card as the head of her three-person household. But that information might never have been recorded. Humanitarian organizations often keep track of deaths among the people they seek to assist, as mortality rates are a common assessment measure. However, Deryce confirmed that IOM has kept no records of deaths in Haitian IDP camps like Mega 4.
“Here, we don’t really measure how a program is working with the number of deaths,” a data analyst who worked in IOM’s Haiti Mission explained in a recorded interview cited in my Ph.D. thesis. “For us, the indicator is decrease of people in camps. Because we want to close camps.”
IOM has kept no records of deaths in Haitian IDP camps like Mega 4.
This data analyst, who spoke to me on condition of anonymity for my doctoral research, did not respond to follow-up questions for this article. However, on a three-way Skype call, Deryce and Giuseppe Loprete, IOM’s chief of mission in Haiti, elaborated on the procedure IOM uses to count decreases in the number of Haitians living in camps. Deryce explained that IOM staff she referred to as “enumerators” regularly visit Haiti’s remaining camps and count the number of shelters in each site. “We continue visiting sites on a regular basis,” she said. “If people reduce, we make sure we’re able to track that.”
“We also have our drones,” Loprete added, explaining that unmanned aerial vehicles are “a very powerful tool” to help the agency find out if camps “for some reason expanded or reduced.”
In late 2010, when IOM published its first report based on the data it gathered through the Displacement Tracking Matrix, the agency estimated that 1.5 million people were living in 1,555 IDP camps throughout Haiti. As of this past January, when IOM published its most recent report on Haiti, just 23 camps remained open, housing fewer than 35,000 Haitians. The agency thus concluded that there had been a “reduction of 99 % of sites and 98 % of IDPs identified in 2010.”
Most of the decrease IOM counted in camp residents occurred within the first few years after the earthquake. Yet these relocations hardly appear to be signs of progress. Household surveys have shown that most families who left Haiti’s IDP camps during this period either felt compelled to leave due to the appalling conditions or were forcibly evicted.
In February 2011, IOM carried out a survey of 1,033 households that had lived in camps that closed within a year of the disaster. Evictions were the most frequently cited reason that survey respondents gave for leaving the camps, followed by rain or hurricanes, poor conditions, and crime or insecurity. Of the former camp residents who responded to the survey, 25 % reported that their households were still living in a tent or makeshift shelter, and another 29 % said they had moved into a house that was in need of repair. Only 42 % of respondents reported that their families were living in an undamaged house.
Of the more than 1,500 camps that have closed since 2010, at least 177 — or about 12 % — were closed through evictions, according to an April 2018 IOM report. IOM estimated that such evictions — many of which were carried out violently at the behest of private landlords, often with the complicity or active involvement of local Haitian authorities — have driven 60,570 Haitians out of IDP camps.
Among those who were violently evicted was 60-year-old Maude Maselus. After the earthquake destroyed the house she rented in Port-au-Prince, Maude took refuge in a camp not far from the rubble of her home in Delmas 17, a relatively central neighborhood in the Haitian capital. For more than a year and a half, she lived under a tarp in the camp, which was located on private land.
However, one day in August 2011, a representative from the mayor’s office arrived in the camp. “He came with many leaders who were well armed, to crush our homes,” recalled Maude, who said she barely had time to salvage her meager belongings before the gun-toting men ordered her to dismantle her tent. Some camp residents panicked and began to run. The armed men ordered them to the ground. Then they began beating people.
Jean-Alex Jacques, who lived in the same camp in Delmas 17 with his girlfriend, referred to what happened that day as a deplasman fosè — a forced displacement. A slight man who is now 32, Jean-Alex said he was badly beaten by the gunmen, who forced him and his girlfriend, along with hundreds of others, to leave the camp.
Like many others who were evicted that day, Maude, Jean-Alex, and his girlfriend have since moved to Corail, an informal settlement north of the Haitian capital. Maude erected a makeshift tent there with the same tarp she’d used in the camp, on a dusty patch of land just a few meters from a similar shelter where Jean-Alex and his girlfriend now live with their 4-year-old daughter.
Corail is located on a wind-swept plain that is prone to flooding during the rainy season. The area was sparsely populated before 2010, when the Haitian government declared it public domain. Individuals who claim to be the land’s prior owners maintain that the government never compensated them, leaving unresolved questions about tenants’ tenure. Yet despite this uncertainty, and the lack of basic services like running water and electricity, hundreds of thousands of Haitians have migrated to informal settlements here over the past nine years, to stake claim to a piece of land or purchase a plot from someone who claimed it first. Canaan, the largest of these settlements, is now estimated to have a population of more than 200,000.
IOM initially identified Canaan and two other informal settlements in the area as IDP camps and counted their residents as part of the country’s displaced population. However, at the request of the Haitian government in 2013, when IOM estimated that there were more than 64,000 people living in these settlements, the agency stopped counting their residents as IDPs. While the rationale for this request was that the settlements had the characteristics of “new neighborhoods needing urban planning with a long term view,” the reclassification made residents even more vulnerable to eviction.
During the closure of Mega 4, some camp residents were also beaten by the police.
We also found indications that IOM’s tally of Haitians evicted from IDP camps may be incomplete. Although Mega 4, for example, was formally closed through a relocation program, camp leaders and former residents say they were nonetheless forced out at gunpoint.
Officially, many of the larger camps were closed through cash grant programs, which offered residents a one-year rental subsidy, paid by organizations like IOM. As these agencies feared that individuals who were not camp residents might try to seek payment, the final registration was often carried out at night, with the assistance of police or UN soldiers who typically cordoned off camp perimeters so nobody who wasn’t already inside could enter. During this final registration, residents were often ordered to take down their tarp shelters before tractors leveled all the campsites.
During the closure of Mega 4, Fritz said, some camp residents were also beaten by the police. He explained that a number of residents were calling for a more durable solution than a one-year subsidy. When IOM announced its plans to close Mega 4 through cash grants they saw as insufficient, residents protested, and some refused to leave. IOM returned several times to Mega 4 in the lead-up to the camp’s closure. “The last journey they made, the National Police came,” Fritz recalled. “They came around midnight, 1 in the morning, while people were asleep.” Fritz said camp residents who resisted removal that night were beaten.
Mara-Donal’s mother-in-law, Trinidad Paul, was among the Mega 4 residents reluctant to leave the camp. “It was the police who came and forced us out,” she said. “They came and beat people. That’s what made us leave.” Trinidad remembers hearing a particularly loud burst of gunfire that night, which she later learned was the cops firing warning shots in the air. “The noise frightened me,” she recalled. She said she hid in her tent, lying flat on her stomach, her heart racing.
It was in the midst of this police operation that Fritz’s mother, Gèze, died of an apparent heart attack. Fritz said her sudden death occurred after she was woken up by the loud blast of gunfire. “This huge noise shocked us all,” added the soft-spoken camp leader. He was at Gèze’s side when she died.
Asked about the closure of Mega 4, an IOM spokesperson confirmed that the final registration of camp residents took place around 2 a.m. with the assistance of Haitian and UN police officers. The organization disputed allegations of violence against camp residents and said that no loss of life occurred that night.
Backward, Not Forward
Relocation programs like the one IOM used to close Mega 4 offered families a means of securing safe rental accommodation — if only temporarily. While these programs — which were also administered by various international charity groups, including the Red Cross and World Vision — varied slightly depending on which agency ran them, they all followed the same basic model. To access the one-year rent subsidy, each eligible family was responsible for identifying an available property on the private market that met basic safety standards and negotiating the rent with the landlord. Once the property was approved by the administering agency, the family signed a one-year lease with the landlord, who received the subsidy upfront. The amount allocated for this payment was generally $500 for the full year; only if the rent cost less did the family get to keep any of the subsidy for themselves.
When IOM closed Mega 4, Mickerlange and her child were still living in the makeshift tent they had shared with Clémane before he died. The young mother, now 31, expected to receive a subsidy. However, she said, once she informed an IOM agent about her father’s death, “the agent took the card and said the card wasn’t valid anymore.” Without an IDP card, Mickerlange recalled an IOM representative telling her, they “couldn’t do anything for me.” She said the IOM agent promised to follow up with her but never returned. “The tractors came, [but] we never got the money,” she said.
Asked about the scenario Mickerlange described, the IOM spokesperson said that “for any individual who may have felt left out or neglected,” there was a grievance process led by the Tabarre mayor’s office that “Mrs. Joseph could have undergone to address any wrongdoing.”
According to Mickerlange, however, she did go through the grievance process and was nevertheless denied benefits.
Her brother Mara-Donal, who lived in a separate tarp shelter in Mega 4 with his wife and kids, did receive a rental subsidy. With that assistance, Mara-Donal, his wife, Phara, and their three children moved back to Petite Place Cazeau, the middle-class neighborhood of Port-au-Prince where they lived before the earthquake. It was a success — for a time. After the one-year subsidy ended, they were unable to afford their rent and had to move out.
In 2012, a consultancy firm called the WolfGroup carried out a phone survey of households that received subsidies for an evaluation commissioned by the Haitian government and organizations involved in administering the grant programs. Based on information collected about each household’s income, savings, and debt loads, the evaluators assessed that 60 % of surveyed families would not be able to afford their rent after the end of the subsidy.
As the evaluation emphasized, these programs were “not intended as a long-term solution.” Rather, they were supposed to provide “a short-term ‘boost’ to get grantees into a safe rental solution and develop their own solution for the mid-term.” Yet the evaluators also pointed out that Haitians still living in camps at the advent of these programs were members of “the poorest urban class in Haiti with the least options.” They noted that the circumstances of these households, most of which live on less than $2 a day, was “a reflection of the broader economic problems in Haiti,” including high rates of unemployment and underemployment. Since this evaluation, Haiti’s economy has further deteriorated, as a significant depreciation of the country’s currency and soaring inflation has hit Haitian families with a dramatic spike in prices of even such basic staples as rice.
Now, amid a political standoff between the U.S.-backed government of Jovenel Moïse and various groups calling for his resignation over charges of corruption, many Haitian communities are also experiencing food insecurity, fuel shortages, and power outages. Schools and businesses have closed, aid deliveries have been suspended, and hospitals have been forced to cut services. Over the past few weeks, as thousands of Haitians have taken to the streets to protest, at least 30 people have been killed, including 15 who were killed by the police. Some Haitians say conditions in their country are worse than anything they’ve previously experienced.
Since 2010, the cost of rent in Port-au-Prince, already high relative to the meager incomes of many Haitian families, has skyrocketed. The Haitian government has estimated that 250,000 homes collapsed in the earthquake or were destroyed beyond repair, exacerbating a housing shortage that existed even before the disaster.
Many subsidy recipients suggested that the grants themselves contributed to the spike in housing prices. The majority of participants in the WolfGroup’s survey believed that landlords raised rental prices because they were aware that an international organization would be paying the rent. A subsequent external evaluation identified “inflation of the price of rental housing” as a potential negative consequence of these programs. The consultants hired to carry out this 2014 evaluation also raised concerns that families who left IDP camps with the assistance of grants might have since moved into the new informal settlements north of Port-au-Prince.
Mara-Donal and Phara moved to one of the most remote of these settlements in 2016. Unable to afford the rising cost of rent in Port-au-Prince, they decided to buy a small plot of land in the settlement, which is called Village Philadelphie. Originally, they’d planned to build themselves a proper home, but more than two years later, they’re still living under the same tarps, wood, and tin sheets that formed their tent in Mega 4. Mara-Donal said that the same difficulties they confronted in the camp have continued to plague them in Village Philadelphie. There’s no potable water station in the area, so the family has to buy water by the bucket from a truck and treat it themselves to ensure that it is safe to drink. Nor is there electricity, or streetlights, or a medical clinic. “The state is not present, international organizations aren’t present,” Mara-Donal observed. “There’s nothing. There’s no infrastructure there for us.”
“It’s as if we’re a pack of animals,” he added.
According to Phara, life in Village Philadelphie is in some ways more difficult than it was in the camp. She reports that it was easier to access potable water in Mega 4, where aid organizations often distributed chlorination tablets. There was a free maternity clinic in the camp, where her youngest child, Clara, was born, but Village Philadelphie is so far from any public hospital or clinic that Phara has found it difficult to access health care at all. This has been an acute concern, since Clara has repeatedly been sick with pneumonia since they arrived in the settlement.
In Mega 4, Phara ran a small business, making and selling pastries. She continued this business in front of the house her family rented through IOM’s grant program. However, since their move to Village Philadelphie, Phara’s business has gone bust. There were simply too few capable of buying her pastries in the remote, impoverished settlement. Phara soon realized that she was spending more on ingredients than she was bringing in.
As the family’s financial situation has worsened, they have had to cut back on basic necessities. Before the earthquake, they ate three meals a day, according to Phara, who says they typically managed this even in the camp. However, since their arrival in Village Philadelphie, they have only been able to afford one meal a day.
Her mother, Trinidad, who also received a grant from IOM, lives next door to Phara and Mara-Donal’s family. Like her daughter, Trinidad has found it much harder to make a living in the settlement than in the camp, where she also ran a small business, reselling items such as candles and cooking gas. Procuring the types of goods she sold in Mega 4 would be much more expensive in Village Philadelphie due to the additional travel costs required to get to the nearest market, so Trinidad hasn’t been able to restart her business.
The frame of the tiny shelter where Trinidad lives with her youngest son, Fritz, and her 1-year-old granddaughter, Carlene, is made out of the same wood beams as the tarp shelter where they lived in the camp. However, as Village Philadelphie is often hit by strong winds, Trinidad had to fortify her shelter with something sturdier. So she sold her IOM tarp to raise money to buy some tin sheets. Yet these flimsy tin walls are already badly rusted and don’t keep out the rain. And she doesn’t have money to buy any new materials. “The water comes in there,” she said, pointing to a hole in the wall above a thin single mattress where she sleeps at night with Carlene, who she said had been sick with diarrhea for three months. “When the rain falls, the entire bed is soaked.” Village Philadelphie is also farther than Mega 4 from Fritz’s school, making it much more expensive to get there by public transit. “Mega 4 was better than here!” she exclaimed, gazing at the hole in the wall, which she had tried to cover with a pair of laminated food guide posters. “We’ve gone backward, not forward! This place is not good for us at all, at all, at all.”
A study carried out by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti found that many other families who left the camps through rental subsidies had also ended up in worse conditions. Forty-four families who moved out of six IDP camps in Port-au-Prince through a cash grant program run by the Haitian government were surveyed at three different stages of the program. The last of these surveys was administered in 2013, when 92 % of these families’ rental subsidies had ended. A substantial majority reported that their living situation and food security were worse than before the earthquake. Thirty-seven percent reported that their access to clean water was worse than it was in the camps, 29 % said their access to medical care was worse, and 37 % reported that they ate less well than in the camps.
Even as a temporary fix, the rental subsidies were only offered to a minority of the families consigned to IDP camps. Of the more than 1.5 million Haitians IOM originally counted in these camps, only 302,116 — less than 20 % — left through a subsidy program, according to IOM.
The vast majority of Haiti’s former IDP camp residents — like Adeline’s family, whose surviving members fled Parc Jean Marie Vincent after her sister and father died — were simply no longer living in an IDP camp when IOM and its drones returned to recount Haiti’s displaced population. By April 2018, IOM reported that there had been 1,143,108 such disappearances, which the agency refers to as “spontaneous returns” — accounting for three-quarters of the decrease the agency has counted.
Deryce, the IOM operations officer, confirmed that the agency does not know how many individuals it tallies as “spontaneous returns” actually died in the camps. Nor does IOM know how many members of households that left through evictions or rental subsidies died in the camps. As part of the final registration IOM carries out in camps it closes through rental subsidy programs, the agency has a questionnaire it uses to gather information about each family who leaves. The questionnaire does not ask a basic question: whether any members of the family died in the camp. As Loprete, IOM’s chief of mission in Haiti, explained, “We did not know of instances of deaths. We never received any notifications of deaths. … We did not really track deaths.”
Asked whether IOM nevertheless considers the decrease in IDP camp population to be a sign of progress, IOM’s spokesperson insisted that it did: “Progress towards finding durable solutions for all earthquake victims continues. It progressed from 96 % in 2017 to 98 % in mid-2019. Out of the original 1,555 IDP sites, only 22 will remain open at the end of 2019. This translates into solutions for 98 % of initial caseload of persons displaced by the 2010 earthquake.”
IOM eventually closed Parc Jean Marie Vincent through a rent subsidy program. However, because none of the Geffrards were still living in the camp when IOM launched the program, neither Adeline nor any of her surviving family members were able to access assistance. Adeline, now 28, currently lives with her spouse and three kids in Pernier 47, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, in the house of acquaintances who are temporarily living elsewhere and saw “we were in a very difficult situation,” she explained. She has no idea where her family will go when the owners of the home return.
The Scale of the Crisis
To this day, very little of the housing that was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake has been rebuilt. And the housing crisis was exacerbated by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, which displaced an estimated 175,000. Many Haitian families continue to lack access to adequate shelter, which places them at risk in the event of yet another disaster. This is a particular concern because Haiti is in the midst of its annual hurricane season, and experts have predicted more storms than usual before the season ends in late November.
Conditions remain particularly unsafe for Haitians who remain in IDP camps, where many women and girls have been raped or sexually assaulted. As of April 2018, when IOM published its latest report on conditions in Haiti’s remaining camps, the vast majority of these camps did not have access to water, and three did not have so much as a single latrine. In many others, IOM reported that the latrines were so full that they constituted a health risk.
Electricity is available to those who can afford it in parts of Canaan, the former IDP camp, where the Haitian government and various international organizations have invested in building some basic infrastructure, including a paved road, and a private hospital has also opened. However, access to such services remains a major problem for residents of other informal settlements north of Port-au-Prince. Given the uncertainty of land tenure, residents are at risk of being evicted from whatever makeshift homes they have been able to build for themselves. Many former camp residents have already been violently evicted from their new homes in Canaan, according to Amnesty International.
Given that many Haitians continue to lack access to clean drinking water, quality medical care, and proper waste disposal services, deadly water-borne diseases like cholera remain a major risk. Since 2010, more than 9,700 Haitians have died from cholera, and 819,000 have contracted the disease. Moreover, cholera has become endemic in Haiti, according to Doctors Without Borders. While suspected new cholera cases have declined significantly since the height of the epidemic in 2011, the U.N. has warned that Haiti remains “extremely vulnerable” to the disease. The U.S. Agency for International Development has also documented growing food insecurity in the country.
For these reasons, USCIS researchers determined that Haiti continued to meet the conditions for TPS when the country’s designation came up for renewal in 2017. As the authors of an internal USCIS report emphasized that October, “Many of the conditions prompting the original January 2010 TPS designation persist, and the country remains vulnerable to external shocks and internal fragility.”
However, the following month, DHS terminated Haiti’s TPS designation. In a press release announcing the decision, Duke, then-acting DHS secretary, claimed, “The extraordinary but temporary conditions caused by the 2010 earthquake no longer exist.” The very first data point Duke cited to support this claim was the decrease IOM counted in the number of Haitians living in IDP camps — from which at least 60,500 were evicted, and where an untold number died.
While IOM began developing its data collection system in Iraq, Loprete explained that “Haiti was always sort of a pilot or pioneer for this tool,” noting, “We can use it of course for other disasters.”
Already, IOM is using the Displacement Tracking Matrix to monitor people displaced by disasters in Yemen, El Salvador, Honduras, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Somalia. The agency has also promoted the system as an important tool for tracking populations displaced by the climate crisis. IOM describes it as a service that “plays an essential role in providing primary data and information on displacement” to humanitarian agencies and governments and thus helps them to “deliver services and respond to needs in a timely manner.”
Yet the central role that the Displacement Tracking Matrix has played in the Trump administration’s official rationale for terminating Haitians’ eligibility for TPS also suggests that the tool may contribute to underestimating the impact of disasters, whether earthquakes, wars, or climate change. By failing to track deaths, while ignoring the fate of displaced people who end up in informal settlements with higher risks and fewer services than IDP camps themselves, this tool risks producing highly distorted data that downplays the scale and severity of contemporary crises of displacement. Such a flawed system of data collection may be convenient for governments “fishing for reasons,” in Judge Kuntz’s words, to close their borders to asylum-seekers. But it also has the potential to undermine humanitarian responses that are urgently needed at a time when more than 70 million people are forcibly displaced around the world, more than at any time in recorded history.
With reporting assistance from Jeremy Dupin and Yvon Vilius.