At the Borey Sant-epheap II relocation site, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, a community that was created from nothing now has the one thing its residents have sorely lacked for years: jobs.
Since 2006, homes have been built on the site for about 850 families that were evicted from Dey Krahorm village, in Phnom Penh’s riverside Tonle Bassac commune, by the private developer 7NG.
An additional 600 families evicted from Boeung Kak lake have also been granted hou-ses on the site, according to a Phnom Penh municipality statement from last year.
The community has had paved streets, free NGO-run schools, a bustling market and electricity for a few years, but many residents were forced to commute 17 kilometres to the city to find work.
But as garment factories have begun springing up on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, edging ever further back, that commute has shrunk. And, for the first time, residents are staying put.
Hung Sotheavy, an eleg-antly dressed mother of two, tried for three years to get a factory job after her family were evicted from Dey Krahorm and moved into a home on the site.
They lived on the income of her husband, a tuk-tuk driver.
“The number of factories was growing, so I applied for a job and was accepted,” Sotheavy said, adding that with a dual income the family’s living standards have improved but are still not ideal.
The factory jobs are a boon for mothers, who can work nearby while their children are at school.
Before landing a garment- factory job, single mother Nak Ni, 29, was forced to borrow money from relatives and neighbours to feed her two daughters after being evicted from Boeung Kak.
“My salary is small, but I don’t need to borrow money any more. I can support my family by myself,” she says.
The situation for residents had vastly improved, thanks to the newly opened factories Sot Sat, the chief of Choam Chao commune in Dangkor district, where the site is based, said.
“There are many more factories now in the area, so they don’t need to work far away from home or spend money on travel,” he says.
Despite providing jobs for many women, the factories are not a panacea for the dim-inished incomes evictees face after they were forced to relocate far from the city.
“It’s still not a good standard of living,” Nak Ni says. “But I don’t hate my life, because I at least have a house to live in.”
Although life is improving for the women, the men still face challenges. Many worked as construction workers and tuk-tuk drivers in the city, and still need to commute.
“We can earn $5 a day running a business in Phnom Penh, but we spend $3 to $4 on travelling,” former Boeung Kak villager Kong Sam Ouen, 60, told the Post.
“That’s why I run a small grocery store here.”
With rows of identical, single-storey, numbered houses lining its gridded streets, the Borey Santepheap II community feels more like a private residential development than a typical Cambodian resettlement site.
But in a sign the jobs may have come too late, locals say many evictees long ago sold the houses that they were given on the site, choosing to remain in Phnom Penh or return to their home provinces.
“Most of the people who were evicted from Boeung Kak lake sold their houses,” Net Kosal, a teacher at the Rudi Boa Centre, a free community school at the site, says.
He estimates that roughly 40 per cent of those living at Borey Santepheap II are new arrivals rather than evictees.
Twenty-three-year-old university student Lue Thy and her mother are one of many evicted families who have chosen to rent in Phnom Penh instead.
Their house at the relocat-ion site remains vacant and padlocked.
“It’s costly to live in Phnom Penh, but it’s better, because I can earn money from work to pay for my house and for my studies,” Thy says.
“Mum says the situation [at the site] has changed, and it might be better in the future.
“But she won’t move there because she doesn’t want to live far away from me or live alone.”