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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - One year on, Phnom Penh's evicted still seek shelter

One year on, Phnom Penh's evicted still seek shelter

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Tim Sakmony sits in the opening of a small sleeping area where she lives with her son and two grandchildren in the stairwell of an apartment block built for evictees from Phnom Penh's Borei Keila community. Photograph: Hong Menea/Phnom Penh Post

A year after hundreds of families’ homes were destroyed during a violent mass eviction at Borei Keila, more than 100 evictees are still living in stairwells and tents at the site.

Evictees, including two HIV-positive girls who returned to Borei Keila from a relocation site because they could not access enough medication, bathe, sleep and eat amid garbage and the thousands of flies that accompany it.

On the eve of the first anniversary of the eviction that left her homeless, 65-year-old grandmother Tim Sakmony, who sleeps under a stairwell with 20 others including her disabled son and grandchildren, reflected yesterday on a year from hell.

“2012 was the worst year of my life and for all the poor people in my community,” she said. “We’ve lived in tents, on top of sewage, surrounded by rubbish and millions of flies.

“I do not know how much longer I will have to live like this, because I do not know when the authority and Phan Imex will provide a resolution for us.”

Last January 3, developer Phan Imex, with the help of 100 district police, military police and private security guards, stormed into Borei Keila, evicting hundreds who had refused downgraded compensation packages that would have sent them to the outskirts of the city or Kandal province.

Hired workers carrying axes, hammers and crowbars tore down houses, sparking violent clashes in which villagers and police were injured and 10 people arrested.

Scores of families, fresh from losing almost everything they owned, sought refuge under staircases in the adjoining high rises at Borei Keila – the type Phan Imex had originally promised to build them in exchange for their land.

Sakmony was one of the many evictees who refused to leave.

She was detained in the Prey Speu social affairs centre for a week in January for a subsequent protest and was locked in pre-trial detention from September until last week on a charge her supporters and rights groups say was created to prevent her protesting.

“It’s been a year now, and the government has not found a solution for us,” she said. “Its solution has been to arrest people like me and put us in prison or in a social affairs centre.”
Sun Vanny, 18, carried a nine-month-old baby as she stood in a small tent surrounded by garbage.

Vanny, a student before the evictions, said she had not spent a day at school in the year since.

“After the evictions, we stopped going to school. My parents began protesting a lot and nobody was taking care of my home or the young children – so I had to.”

Vanny said her family, who had lost everything in the eviction and now live in a small tent, had no intention of leaving Borei Keila.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A woman prepares food near a cluster of shelters at the Oudong relocation site, Wednesday, January 2nd, 2012. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A woman builds a roof for a makeshift shelter at the Phnom Bat relocation site, Wednesday, January 2nd, 2012. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post

“The authorities have said they will come and demolish this house again. We don’t want to move from here, we just want them to build a home for us.”

Other residents complained of health problems such as tuberculosis and throat infections, difficulties selling food due to the number of flies, and residents throwing rubbish and cigarettes over the balconies onto their tents.

Phan Imex has said it has provided adequate compensation to all 1,776 families eligible for housing under its land exchange deal, inked in 2004, despite not building two high-rises it initially promised.

But Khorn Malin, another woman who lives under the stairs, said conditions at the Oudong relocation site, 50 kilometres from the capital, were not only inadequate, they were unlivable for her two HIV-positive nieces.

“My mother moved to Oudong after the company forced her to, but they did not provide her with a plot of land, because they said I protested against them,” she said.

“After January 3, my nieces went to live with my mother. But the youngest did not have access to medicine – they’re now living with me under the staircase.”

Touch Khorn has an apartment at Borei Keila but helps people at Oudong.

He said only 60 of the 100 families had been given land at the site, people were struggling for food and were a long way from sources of income.

“People are having serious problems out there. Phan Imex, authorities, NGOs – please bring food to help the people out there.”

Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said the situation at Oudong and Tuol Sambo, 20 kilometres from Borei Keila, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, was still “really bad and serious” for many families who had moved there.

“They’ve had a big problem living away from the city. They’ve lost their jobs and incomes and their children have abandoned their schooling.

“At Oudong especially, there are no jobs or income. There’s just nothing there, so I think most of the husbands have returned to the city [for work].”

Families at the sites had been given land receipts, but had to wait five years for land titles, Phearum  said. 

“I don’t want to see serious cases like this. I want to see the government understand the suffering of the people. The two new buildings Phan Imex agreed to need to be built.”

Phnom Penh Municipality spokesman Long Dimanche, who has been in his role less than a year, said he was not aware of the details of last year’s mass eviction and was not in a position to comment.

“I only know a little bit about this case, so I cannot tell you about this. I will tell you later when I learn more.”

A man who answered the phone of Phan Imex owner Suy Sophan said she was on her way to Singapore yesterday and not available for comment. 

To contact the reporter on this story: Shane Worrell at shane.worrell@phnompenhpost.com
With assistance from May Titthara

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