May 16, 2020 / 3:17 AM / 17 days ago

Residents of Bogota slum facing eviction despite quarantine

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Hundreds of people expected to be evicted from their hillside homes in a slum of Colombia’s capital Bogota on Friday, despite having nowhere to go during the country’s coronavirus lockdown.

A man, wearing a mask, picks up the remains of his house during an eviction operation, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Bogota, Colombia May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

The informal houses have been declared illegal by local authorities and will be knocked down as part of the evictions. Residents accuse police accompanying the eviction process of excessive force.

The evictions in the Altos de la Estancia neighbourhood are taking place despite Colombia’s months-long lockdown meant to stem the spread of coronavirus, which has killed more than 500 people.

The neighbourhood was home to about 1,000 families when evictions began two weeks ago. Now just some 100 families remain, residents told Reuters.

“The majority of the people that live here are unemployed because of COVID-19 and the pandemic,” said John Parra, 36, who moved to Bogota after being displaced by the country’s internal conflict.

Though his home has been destroyed, Parra said he has nowhere else to go. Some previously evicted residents are now sleeping on the streets or outside.

Many low-income Colombians who work informally have suffered during the lockdown. About a third of the country’s population lives in poverty, according to government figures.

The government promised to help poor families during quarantine with welfare payments and deliveries of supplies, but many say they have received little or no aid.

The housing minister has banned evictions through June, but officials said the Altos de la Estancia houses are illegal and the area is at risk of landslides.

“This is a high risk zone and we could not allow the occupation to continue for one more day,” Jaime Florez, the mayor of the Ciudad Bolivar district of Bogota, told journalists.

Florez said the residents were offered new accommodation in a shelter, but people who spoke to Reuters said they fear catching COVID-19 there.

The ESMAD riot police were gathered near the remaining houses on Friday. The force has been on hand during evictions and residents say it has used violence against them.

Venezuelan migrant Faridee Pinto said his 16-year-old son was badly injured at the start of the month by an ESMAD projectile.

“He lost part of his skull and 20% or 30% of his forehead,” Pinto said, as his son Ysmail removed his hat to show the stitches marring his hairline. He is awaiting surgery.

Bogota’s police did not respond to a request for comment.

“I was in pain; my forehead was covered in blood,” said the boy, clutching a toy rabbit. “I thought I was never going to wake up again.”

Reporting by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Julia Symmes Cobb and Cynthia Osterman

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