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One day after the police opened fire on squatters occupying lands on the East Coast of Demerara (ECD), the Ministry of Housing and Water has invited these and other persons to a meeting to initiate the process towards legal land allocation.
Persons occupying lands south of the railway embankment, in the Vryheids Lust, Success, and Chateau Margot communities have been invited to meet with the Ministry today, October 1, at the Chateau Margot Primary School from 08:00 hours.
They are asked to come with a valid form of identification (passport or national identification card), proof or affidavit of income, TIN certificate, and marriage certificate if applicable. Persons with children below the age of 18 should come with copies of their birth certificates.
However, proof of income may pose a challenge to many of the squatters whom the Village Voice spoke with directly on Wednesday during the standoff with the police.
Providing context, one female squatter said: “I was home and heard that a jeep load of police were coming down the road to come to shoot up inside here because they don’t want any squatting in here no more, NICIL wants back their land…next thing you know pellets started flying, the place got black with smoke how they started shooting up and children got pellets all over their skin, bleeding. A lady got pellets, two in she eye, jaw, all over. And bullets, they’re shooting down bullets on the ground! They’re wicked! NICIL should have come before this escalated so far!”
Recently, the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc. (GuySuCo) sent out notice that all persons illegally occupying or squatting on lands in the area must know that these lands are the property of GuySuCo’s East Demerara Cultivation (Enmore Estate). It said that the Corporation is currently in the process of reviving its operation and the squatting on these lands is hindering the land preparation process. The squatters were ordered to leave immediately.
On Wednesday, the police brought in machinery to Success to remove the bridge to a squatting area as a means to further drive those living there off the land.
Persons there, both of Afro and Indo ethnicity, told the Village Voice that they had no other option but to move to the area after the COVID-19 pandemic when their income slowed and some were fired from their jobs.
“This is the coronavirus period, people can’t afford to pay rent because you can’t get work nowhere! Nobody isn’t getting jobs, we come here to live somewhere and now they moving we. We can’t afford to pay rent!” one male squatter shouted emotionally.
Another man who garbed his head in a white t-shirt as a means of protection from the virus and the tear gas, pleaded: “I wanna ask the President and the Prime Minister if y’all ain’t got feelings for poor people. Y’all tek the oil, y’all tek the gold, y’all tek the sugar and give we the land. Y’all tek everything and give we the land. That’s all we want, that’s all we want. We’re begging you!”
The 52 year old man said that he had been squatting since he was born and, three months ago, when he came to the squatting area, it marked the first time that he had settled down somewhere and had begun to build a sturdy home for himself.
Just nearby were four women nursing the after effects of tear gas that had been sprayed on them, their homes and their children. “I have eight children and my landlord put me out! It’s a zinc house I’m living in at the back there,” a woman said, pointing to a large area of land where small houses were seen dotted and at different stages of construction. Most of the houses look like they were made out of materials gathered here and there.
The squatters were very upset that the actions of the police to spray pellets at them has landed several children, including a pregnant woman, in the hospital. In retaliation, they began to burn tyres and some hurled objects at the police. While the Village Voice was live, another round of pellets was fired forcing many to run and duck for cover.
The squatters told the newspaper that they want their plight to be considered and wished that the authorities would understand that their only alternative is to live on the streets with their children as homeless people.
“My landlord put me out because I couldn’t pay she $40,000. How I gon’ pay she $40,000 when I don’t have no work? All them stores knock off people. Where we working to pay them? It’s a zinc house I’m living in and this is not right!” another female squatter said emotionally.
A number of the squatters said that they had applied for land, legally, over a decade ago but are still to be attended to. The Ministry of Housing and Water has assured, however: “[We are] committed to facilitating this process as it is the first step in the direction of legally owning a plot of land from the agency. For persons who have an existing application in the Ministry, if there is a need for updated information to be added, this will be facilitated as well. The Ministry wishes to assure that all applications will be dealt with, in due process as we recognise the demand and the need for adequate housing as a basic human right.”