10,000 Squatters Face Bleak Future

MONROVIA — More than 10,000 squatters of the Airfield Community may not know where to go when the Government’s ultimatum asking them to vacate the area expires next week.
They have been squatting on a vast stretch of land owned by the Liberia Civil Aviation Authority (LCAA), a government agency that oversees domestic flights at the James Spring Field in Sinkor.
The agency has given the community dwellers, including women and children, up to October 1, 2009, to vacate or be removed. But the residents say they have not found a suitable place to live, nor has the Government given them any clear idea as to where to relocate.
An LCAA notice board erected at the main entrance of the community says a project aimed at fencing the entire field is expected to begin shortly in several phases.

Speaking to the Daily Observer in separate interviews, residents of the area first acknowledged that they had, over the past few years, inhabited the area illegally and also accepted the fact that they had, on several occasions, been warned by the government to vacate the area.
“Although, we accept and acknowledge the fact that we have been living here illegally, we also expect Government to respect our rights as citizens of this country who have all rights to be protected by their Government. We were not even met with, as people, to negotiate anything. By 7:15 p.m. last Friday, immediately after our sporting activities on the main field [towards the main entrance], we noticed some individuals erecting this notice board. As a community, we all rushed to see what it had to say. And that is how we got to know about this whole thing; asking us to evacuate or be removed by October 1, a 21-day ultimatum,” they said.
“We are not resisting this; no, not all. We are only appealing for some negotiation processes to take place through which our voices, needs, interests and demands could be channeled to Government.”
Garmonyu W. Boe, the leader of the community, said this in an interview with the Daily Observer: “Again, we accept that we are here illegally; but we are calling on Government to kindly give us a year of extension. And in fact, there are no options given to us! If Government or even the aviation people say they want to evacuate us, what’s there for us? Are they going to identify a place where we could be relocated? This is why we are calling for a dialogue with Government.
“Most of us here came during the war and have absolutely no hope elsewhere. If we get abruptly removed from here, where do we go? Should we look toward the leeward counties? Who is there? Or what is there for us as hope for the future?
“We cannot even afford to rent a room here in Monrovia since a single bedroom costs at least US$10. This is an amount that most of us cannot afford; at least not on a monthly basis. Remember, [the majority] of us here live on LD$50 on a daily basis, which is far below the poverty line.”
He further outlined the socio-economic and political implications of the pending evacuation exercise in these words: “This exercise will further cost the education of our children, many of whom attend schools in and around the community. The fact that we don’t even know where to go from here should tell you what happens to the education of thousands of our children.
“Moreover, our women who sell at the Fish Market would be forced out of business and you can image the economic implications of that. These women who are practically the backbones of their individual families will [lose] their access to economic empowerment. On the political side of it, our participation in the coming by-elections will be negatively impacted, as we might not participate in that process if we are removed come October 1. We might not vote, and that will be a gross violation of our constitutional rights.”
The Director General of the Liberia Civil Aviation Authority, Richlieu Williams, categorically told the Daily Obsever that the Government had no evacuation options for these people.
He said: “There are no evacuation options from Government’s end. These people need to go to where they came from. And talking about evacuation options or benefits, there are about five to six prominent Liberians having properties on that land. So do you expect Government to compensate those people, too?
“They have been squatting for six years now. They have been warned, and it is for their own safety. If they move, they will be given something. Don’t ask me how much. But if we give them any evacuation packages now, they will not move. People need to be at least 150 yards off the airfield area for their own safety.”
On the issue of extension as being advocated by leaders of the Airfield Community, Williams had this to say: “They have been given four to five extensions already; now Government remains firm on its decision.”