Forced from their homes at gunpoint

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Date: 13 November, 2006

'These people are being treated like human rubbish instead of Angolan citizens', says Araujo, ‘and we are not prepared to sit here quietly and let it happen.’
photo: Christian Aid/Sian Curry




Earlier this year, four-year-old Pedro Jose was shot and injured by armed police as they forced his family from their home in order to tear it down.

If such an outrage happened in the UK or Ireland, there would be huge repercussions for the police force and the government, as ordinary people would demand to know why it had happened.

In Angola, only just recovering from 27 years of civil war, questioning those in authority is a risky business. Until recently, disagreeing with someone in uniform could get you killed.

Angolans are only now beginning to learn that they do have the power to make their voices heard, and Christian Aid’s partner SOS Habitat is helping them do it.

SOS Habitat helps poor people whose homes are under threat. During the war, hundreds of thousands fled to the capital Luanda for safety and built shelters wherever they could. Today many of these families have lived in the city for more than 20 years.

Now their homes are under threat as the government and private businesses search for new land on which to build, in a city which is vastly overcrowded.

There have been hundreds of forced evictions and illegal demolitions as poor families’ homes are bulldozed to make way for newer, smarter developments. Many families are given no warning – the first they know about what’s happening is when the bulldozers arrive.

‘We saw that they had guns and we ran away,’ explains 16-year-old Arnalda, who used to live in the same neighbourhood as Pedro.

‘They didn’t say anything to explain why they were pulling our house down. They just said that if we didn’t leave the neighbourhood, they would come back the next day with dogs to hunt us down.’

SOS Habitat uses lawyers, letters, media interviews and demonstrations to protest against illegal evictions, and to demand that local government, police and private individuals respect Angolan law and basic human rights.

This year, at the height of the Angolan winter, SOS Habitat coordinator Luis Araujo spent a week living in a homeless camp for families who had been evicted. He invited politicians and journalists to visit him there, to see for themselves the squalor people have to endure.

In a developed democratic country, this kind of protest doesn’t sound special. In Angola it is groundbreaking and very brave. SOS Habitat activists have been arrested, beaten and faced death threats. But they remain determined to continue their work.

'These people are being treated like human rubbish instead of Angolan citizens', says Araujo, ‘and we are not prepared to sit here quietly and let it happen.

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