Houston Community News >> Beijing Games Forces Millions Homeless

6/7/2007-- WANG Baoguan burned himself to death while being forcibly evicted from his Beijing home to make way for the city's construction project for the 2008 Olympic Games which China hopes will confirm its status as a global power.

He is just one of the estimated 1.5 million residents of Beijing who will be displaced or evicted from their homes - many of them against their will - before next year's Olympics, the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) said this week. "The prospect of being forcibly evicted can be so terrifying that it is not uncommon for people to risk their lives in an attempt to resist; or even more extreme, to take their own lives when it becomes apparent that the eviction cannot be prevented," said a report compiled by COHRE following an investigation into the alleged harassment and physical violence to which those residents who resist eviction, known as dingzihu, are subjected.

China has denied the criticisms. Beijing's Olympic organizing committee and China's foreign ministry said the figures were vastly inflated, with only 6,037 people displaced since 2002 for the construction of Olympic stadiums.

"During the process, the citizens have had their compensation property settled," said a foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu. "No single person was forced to move out of Beijing."

However, in a case study in the COHRE report on the Beijing neighborhood of Hujialou which has been marked for demolition, residents told researchers how the area has been transformed into a slum by the demolition-relocation company which removed windows and steel safety doors from all buildings, removed manhole covers and exterior lighting, and scattered debris in the stairways of buildings where roughly one third of the original population continue to live.

Many are vulnerable and include the handicapped and chronically ill, the unemployed, school-age children and elderly people living on meager pensions.

"Residents also complained that the demolition company had hired thugs to harass residents at night, physically attacking some of the most outspoken critics of the demolitions and dumping rubbish and defecating in doorways at night," the report said.

Over the winter when temperatures hovered around freezing, residents had to contend without heating or electricity, low water pressure and the constant risk of fire.

Their appeals to the local residents' committee, local officials and the mayor's office have apparently fallen on deaf ears as residents say the committee has been bribed by the demolition company to ignore complaints.

Recourse to adequate compensation varied widely, the housing rights watchdog said, adding that those who suffer a significant decline in their living conditions as a result of their relocation could be as high as 20 percent.

The International Olympic Committee said it was seeking a better understanding of how mega-events like the Olympics impact displacement through a meeting with the UN Special Rapporteur for Adequate Housing. "As a matter of principle, how the Olympic Games impact people's lives is an important matter for the IOC," said its communications director, Giselle Davies.

Residents displaced or evicted to make way for building work, according to human rights campaigners

Residents displaced or evicted, according to the Chinese government

Seats in the new Beijing National Stadium

Residents displaced by the effects of construction work in advance of the 1996 Games in Atlanta, Georgia, United States.

Families evicted in Barcelona and 200 others relocated to make way for ring-roads leading up to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

The rise in rents in Sydney between 1996 and 2003, during which time the 'Olympic effect' forced many families to move to the Australian city's fringe.

Miles to be traveled by the Olympic torch in the run-up to next year's Games

Continents will be visited by the torch on its journey to the Games

Minibuses will be operated by a total of 8,000 drivers to transport people to and from various venues

Houses in Beijing demolished to make way for construction work so far

Sports will be represented - just one event more than the Athens Games of 2004.

(Contributed by Scotsman.com)