In-depth: Aid in an urbanizing world

NEPAL: Fears of violence during expected Kathmandu squatter eviction

Thousands of landless squatters turned out in protest
KATHMANDU, 2 February 2012 (IRIN) - A Nepalese government development plan for Kathmandu could lead to violence as the authorities seek to evict thousands of landless squatters, activists say.

“We are ready to kill ourselves to stop government bulldozers. This is a life or death situation,” said Saru Magar, a landless squatter, who has been living at Bansighat settlement in the city centre for over 30 years.

“Where can we go?” asked Indra Prasad Timilsina in frustration. “We have no place to live.”

“We are extremely worried for the families, especially the children, women and the elderly people. They have absolutely nowhere to go,” said urban poverty expert Lajana Manandhar, director of NGO Lumanti Support Group for Shelter, which has been providing legal support to the squatters.

The development plan envisages clearing a large area and the demolition of a number of buildings, including clinics and petrol stations.

Some 40 squatter settlements with an estimated population of over 20,000 are being targeted, mostly along the city’s riverbanks, according to Lumanti. The squatter-migrants have been moving to the city from impoverished rural hill areas since the early 1950s.

Things appear to be coming to a head after the Supreme Court ruled on 27 January against the squatters, prompting the authorities to ready their bulldozers; thousands of police have been mobilized for an eviction which could take place any time now.

“This is winter time and it’s very cold in the capital. The government has ruthlessly picked such a time to evict the squatters to make them homeless,” said Sabin Ninglekhu Limbu, a University of Toronto researcher specializing in squatter settlement issues.

The government’s eviction plans are a violation of internationally recognized human rights and fail to follow UN principles and guidelines on rights to adequate housing, Limbu added.

“The government should immediately suspend the evictions until it can ensure that the relocations of squatters are respected,” said Human Rights Watch on 20 January.

Meanwhile, the squatters, many of whom cannot sleep in anticipation of the eviction, have begun preparing for the worst.

“It has been a nightmare for all of us as we fear being homeless any time… We fear for the children and the elderly,” said Siva Prasad Sharma, president of local community group United National Squatters Front.

Newspaper announcement

The government has not issued eviction notices to the squatters, but has placed an announcement in the newspapers warning that the eviction will take place, he explained. A three-month rent subsidy, but no alternative accommodation, has been offered.

“The government hasn’t even bothered to verify how many are actually very poor and what their situation will be once they are evicted. This issue is not a priority for the government,” said Lumanti’s Manandhar.

“This eviction without any relocation plan is ridiculous. The issue could be dealt with easily without agitating the squatters who are ready to take up arms to fight the government,” former mayor of Kathmandu Keshab Sthapit told IRIN.

When Sthapit ordered the destruction of over 150 squatter homes in the city’s Bishnumati area in 2001, Kathmandu Metropolitan Office and Lumanti purchased government land and built houses for each family verified as landless squatters. There is a lot of disused land, but no-one in the government seems interested in relocation, he added.

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