– Human Services Ministry, diaspora ready to assist
By Vishani Ragobeer
PRIME MINISTER, Brigadier (ret’d) Mark Phillips, during a meeting with the squatters at Success on Saturday, offered to set up a temporary shelter nearby for them, but his offer was not met with a favourable response.
Over the past few months, squatters have been occupying lands at Vryheid’s Lust, Success, and Chateau Margot on the East Coast of Demerara (ECD). The largest group of squatters has been squatting at Success on lands that belong to the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), where sugarcane cultivation is expected to resume, after years of dormancy.
After his meeting with the squatters, the Prime Minister, during an interview with the Sunday Chronicle, emphasised that squatting is illegal and that persons should apply for house lots through the established channels, that is, through the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA).
After spending about an hour at the squatting area, meeting with the squatters and listening to their concerns, the Prime Minister recognised that some persons were in need and tried to assist however he could.
“We explored the possibility of a shelter nearby for them, (at) perhaps a school or something but they’re not interested in that, they’re interested in staying on the land,” the Prime Minister told the Sunday Chronicle.
He also related that there was no evidence of any permanent structure there at Success, and thus opined that the squatters were attempting to force the Ministry of Housing to perhaps regularise the area. He reminded that these lands will be used by GuySuCo when they recommence cultivation shortly, and thus, they are not for human occupation.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security and members of the diaspora are seeking to provide assistance to the vulnerable individuals at Success.
On Saturday, the Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Dr. Vindhya Persaud, told the Sunday Chronicle that she stands ready to provide assistance in the form of food hampers and potentially, financial assistance to those families with children in need.
Persons desirous of the ministry’s help can approach the ministry directly or they can send their names and contact information to the Ministry’s Facebook page, and engage Ministry personnel.
She also reminded that her ministry will be launching a new face-mask sewing initiative geared at providing employment opportunities to persons affected by the pandemic; this initiative is expected to last beyond the pandemic.
Many of the squatters have lamented that they have no option but to squat since they lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One such squatter was Jamicia (only name given), a mother of four. Previously, she worked as a salesgirl on Regent Street but lost her job in March.
A pregnant mother, Daveka, lives in a home consisting of a tarpaulin wrapped around pieces of wood wedged into the ground; she has a small kerosene stove and a mattress on top of a few wooden crates. She told the Sunday Chronicle that she was a receptionist at the Tourist Villa, but lost her job due to the pandemic. She occupied the land a few months ago and made it her home.
There is also Amanda Jordan, a pregnant mother of two, who previously paid $35,000 monthly in rent, but when the COVID-19 pandemic caused her to lose her job in March, she was left with nowhere else to stay. Though her makeshift home has been affected by GuySuCo’s flooding of the lands in preparation for the cultivation of sugarcane there, she said she cannot leave because she has nowhere else to go.
“It is better for people to have access to house lots and better housing overall. That’s the thrust of the government,” Dr. Persaud, however reasoned, adding, “Squatting is never a good thing because it is not healthy in terms of access to water and sanitation.”
She stressed that persons must live in spaces that are suitable for occupation, outfitted with the necessary amenities.
In addition to the assistance the Ministry will be providing, members of the diaspora have been organising dry foods and clothing for these squatters. Gavin Matthews, who is the person coordinating the assistance from the diaspora, told this newspaper on Saturday that he will visit the area to ascertain how many persons require the assistance and will then channel the contributions to them.
“We gotta find some way to assist these persons here at Success,” Matthews said.
A small number of local contributors have also reached out to Gavin to provide assistance to these squatters. For anyone desirous of contributing, Gavin can be contacted on +592 627 4425