Amnesty International, the global rights defender, accused the Addis Ababa municipality led by Mayor Takele Uma, for “demolishing dozens of homes belonging to day labourers over the past three weeks”,making at least 1,000 people homeless amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most of those whose homes have been destroyed recently lost their jobs due to the ongoing COVID-19 shutdowns told Amnesty International that they are now also having sleepless nights as authorities repeatedly confiscate tarpaulin or plastic sheeting they are using to shelter against heavy rains. “Stranded families have told us harrowing stories of how their children are sleeping out in the open, exposed to the drenching rain and cold,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.
“Having a home is critical to protecting oneself from COVID-19, stopping its spread and recovering from it. The authorities must ensure that no one is put in a position of increased vulnerability to COVID-19 including by rendering them homeless.”
According to the authorities in Bole District, the demolitions, which started mid-February, were targeting illegal structures in the area. Victims, however, told Amnesty International they had built their homes on land they bought from farmers in 2007. The authorities however do not recognize this purchase and insist the families are squatters because they did not purchase the land from the Addis Ababa municipality.
After the early April demolitions of their permanent homes, the affected families attempted to rebuild temporary shelters made from canvas and tarpaulin, but these too were pulled down and their materials confiscated by police in yet another round of demolitions that started on 14 April 2020.
“The ongoing demolitions are a terrible act of inhumanity when people have so much to contend with – COVID-19, joblessness and heavy downpours. The authorities are making a bad situation worse by inflicting homelessness on people who do not even know where their next meal will come from,” Deprose Muchena said.
Amnesty International has verified, using satellite imagery analysis, about 40 recently built structures have been damaged or destroyed since 6 April 2020 near the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport in sub-city District 12. The satellite images show before and after images of the area with and without missing homes, as well as the appearance of tents and other temporary structures in place of what had been permanent homes.
Most of the victims of these demolitions worked as casual labourers in construction sites in Addis Ababa which are no longer operational due to the COVID-19 shutdowns.
Families told us their homes were demolished without any notice, nor had the authorities engaged in any discussions or consultations as is required by international human rights law as some of the safeguards against forced evictions. Protection against forced evictions applies to everyone regardless of whether they own, rent or occupy the homes or land in question.
One woman, a single mother, told Amnesty International that she was at work on 6 April when her neighbor called to tell her that her house was being demolished.
“Now I cover myself and my four children under a tarp during the night and whenever it rains. We cannot even put up a makeshift home because the police are taking the canvas and the tent,” she said. The woman asked to remain anonymous due to fear of retribution from the local authorities who are arresting anyone speaking publicly, or to the media about this issue.
“The authorities must immediately stop these forced evictions and ensure that people are provided with alternative housing as a matter of urgency. For the longer term they should begin proper consultations with affected families on what the problem really is, and thereafter follow due process in whatever plan of action is agreed on.”
Reports show that over the past few years illegal house construction has been expanding in Addis Ababa especially around the border areas, which led the municipality to demolish these houses in areas such as, Legetaffo and the like.