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Too poor to care for the dead

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A woman walks through the green shelter in Borei Keila where some of the remaining HIV-positive families are awaiting relocation.


P'Chum Ben has been a time of sorrow for the HIV+ families at Borei Keila who are living in limbo, unsure of where - or whether - they will be re-housed

ON P'Chum Ben morning a young woman looks at the level of the water inside her Borei Keila house. The day before the rain flooded her home and came up to just below her knees.

That will be her overriding memory of P'Chum Ben. No trip to the countryside as it is too expensive, just a short walk to the pagoda for a prayer and a quick exit because she cannot pay for the ceremony.

Some of her neighbours did not even make it to the pagoda. They are too poor to take care of the souls of their dead.
These families are the last residents on the site that will eventually house a new Ministry of Tourism office. They have been living in the "green shelter" for HIV-positive families at Borei Keila awaiting relocation to Toul Sambo, a purpose-built village to house the  HIV-positive 20 kilometres outside Phnom Penh.

This is the tail end of the Borei Keila government "model" resettlement scheme. The majority of families not yet relocated are HIV-positive and even though many have been living on the site since 2000, they are not eligible for one of the apartments built by developer Phanimex as part of the government's land concession.

A group of NGOs and international organisations have denounced the government's plan to relocate HIV-positive families to Toul Sambo as the shift that will leave the poorest and most marginalised members of the community isolated and without access to medical care.

In toul sambo the houses are very small and very hot ... and it’s too far away.

The international NGO CARE wrote to the governor of Phnom Penh, Kep Chuktema, on behalf of 18 nongovernmental organisations on September 8 to seek an assurance that "nobody will be removed from Borei Keila before a screening process and relocation plan has been put in place, as promised repeatedly by the deputy governor of Phnom Penh Mann Chhoeun."
Life in limbo
But in Borei Keila, residents seem to be unaware of the negotiations. They have no news about their relocation to Toul Sambo, but they are sure they do not want to go there.

Chea, a construction worker, is anxious about his family's future.
"In Toul Sambo the houses are very small and very hot. If it's too hot, my medicines will not work. And it's too far away, what will we do there? If I die, what will be the future for my children?"

But Chea is still hopeful that he will be relocated to one of the new apartments on the site. Looking through the documents he keeps in a suitcase, he takes one out that he says proves he has been renting a house in Borei Keila since 2000.

Under the original 2004 Borei Keila agreement signed by the government, renters who have been living in the area since 2000 were eligible for an apartment in one of the ten new buildings. And while three buildings have been constructed, many families have been told that they have no right to a new apartment.

"I was too poor to pay a fee to the community to get my name on the list. Now I am not a member of the community," Chea said.

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