Olympics blamed for forcible removal of 2 million over 20 years

Posted by admin on Jun 6th, 2007

Julian Borger, The Guardian, Wednesday 6 June 2007

More than 2 million people have been moved from their homes over the past 20 years, many of them forcibly, to clear space for the Olympic Games, a human rights group reported yesterday. Three quarters of the displaced people are in China, where the authorities are clearing large swaths of residential districts ahead of next year’s Olympics, according to a new report by the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE).

The report said that 1.25 million had already been moved from their homes due to “Olympics-related redevelopment” with an another quarter million evictions expected before the games start.

The Chinese foreign ministry rejected the statistics as “groundless”. It said that just over 6,000 households had been demolished and that the homeowners had been compensated and resettled.

However, the COHRE report insists that its statistics are conservative, and do not include rural migrants living in the overcrowded central districts of Beijing who the group says will be forced out.

“In Beijing, and in China more generally, the process of demolition and eviction is characterised by arbitrariness and lack of due process. In many cases, tenants are given little or no notice of their eviction and do not receive the promised compensation,” the report states.

“This lack of adequate compensation (or any compensation at all) sometimes leaves the evictees at risk of homelessness. The forced evictions are often violent and abuses committed during the eviction processes have multiplied.”

The International Olympic Committee has agreed to attend a COHRE workshop next week to learn more about the report and the housing implications of the games.

“We’re in contact because it’s a matter important to us. It’s important for us to understand what kind of international norms that exist on this matter, that governments can follow,” an IOC spokeswoman said.

“We don’t want to react to the figures now. We really want to go into the nitty-gritty on how the figures were made.”

Jean du Plessis, COHRE’s executive director, said yesterday he was “very pleased” with the committee’s response.

Mr du Plessis acknowledged that China’s breakneck economic growth has led to the bulldozing of countless homes anyway. But he said preparations for the Olympics has led to a marked acceleration in the rate of evictions.

“One can judge the Olympic effect,” Mr du Plessis said. “There was a trend of development-related evictions and removals prior to the Olympic bid, but there was a clear spike after the bid – a doubling of the rate at which evictions were carried out.”

There are other sporting events and big public occasions which have led to large-scale evictions and house-clearing, and their impact is reported in the COHRE report: Mega-events, Olympic Games and Housing Rights. For example, 1,000 shantytown homes were allegedly bulldozed to make room for the 2002 Miss World beauty pageant in Abuja, Nigeria. But the report makes clear the Olympics is the biggest steamroller of all.

According to COHRE, 720,000 people were forcibly evicted in the preparation for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and 30,000 people were displaced in the gentrification and development for Atlanta in 1996.

In London, where the Olympics are still five years away, COHRE said 1,000 people faced the prospect of having to move. The impact would be felt disproportionately by the poor and minorities, the report said. A London Development Agecy spokesman said the report was “littered with misleading information”. He said half the 1,000 people mentioned were students whose accommodation was being moved for reasons unrelated to the 2012 Olympics.

“The regeneration sparked by the Olympics will create up to 40,000 new homes,” he said.

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