Security forces attack victims of fire seeking dignified housing

The inhabitants of the Oasis community in the Moravia neighborhood of Medellin, Colombia, have been living under a bridge ever since a massive fire destroyed their houses in 2017.

February 03, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
Protesters blocked the bridge, and burned tires, demanding the government fulfill its promise of alternative, permanent housing. Photo: Colombia Informa

On January 28 & 29, the inhabitants of the Oasis community in the Moravia neighborhood of Medellin, Colombia, protested against the municipal administration for not complying with the promise of providing dignified housing to those who had lost their homes in a fire in 2017.

They protested in the vicinity of the hill. They also blocked the Mother Laura Bridge and burned tires. Federico Gutierrez, the mayor of Medellin, sent Mobile Anti-disturbance Squadron (ESMAD), a special national police unit, to handle the protestors. ESMAD used brutal measures to repress the protest. They fired tear gas bombs, pushed people and even tried to evict them from their temporary shelters.

On August 18, 2017, a fire engulfed the entire Moravia neighborhood destroying more than 100 wooden houses, leaving 324 families on street. Gutierrez prohibited the residents from returning to their houses and asked them to remain in temporary shelters. He promised to help them with a permanent housing solution.

The affected families, including pregnant women, elderly people and children, are living in precarious conditions under the Mother Laura Bridge, waiting for humanitarian aid.

Moravia originally was an open air trash dump site. However in the early 1980’s, city residents began to build houses over it. In 2006, another disaster destroyed 200 houses and then Medellin mayor Sergio Fajardo committed to provide replacement housing to all those affected, but the commitment was never fulfilled. The site was empty until 2014, when the same victims somehow reconstructed the houses, taking into account the government’s unwillingness to deliver on its promise.

According to the inhabitants, the municipality is trying to evict them without offering any alternative solutions. They want to rebuild their houses in the same area, but they have been refused by the Administrative Department of Disaster Risk Management (DAGRD). They have begun to plant trees and have knocked down the poles that people had nailed to build houses.

“They gave us some subsidies for a while, but they left us on the street again. We came to relocate here where we lived and they attack us and they want to remove us by force”, said Gloria, one of the affected.

On the other hand, Paulina Sanchez, secretary of Social, Family and Human Rights Inclusion, said that aid had been given to all those affected. “We are in the recovery stage. People were approached with job offers or venture or seed capital so that they had a source of income generation and could live in a habitable area of the city, since the area where the fire broke is not habitable”, she said.