The residents of Por Sen Chey district’s Prey Chisak village could do nothing but stand and stare.
Early yesterday, representatives of Green Goal, a private company tasked with measuring and marking sought-after property for Phnom Penh’s airport expansion, arrived in the village and started to measure the land many have lived on their whole lives.
Phoung Yom held tightly to her certificate of residence as she watched the men measure out a vacant area in front of her home, where a village clinic had been planned. The company is also responsible for relocation.
“I heard they will give us money, but I don’t know how much. How are we supposed to find a new place to live when we don’t have money? Compensation is never paid to evictees,”
At 75 years old, Yom said she had looked forward to spending her final years in the place she had called home for her entire life. Now, that future looks uncertain.
“It has been a village since our parents and grandparents,” she said, explaining that the airport expansion would not only be destroying bricks and water but tearing a community apart.
With their days numbered and compensation still elusive, the soon-to-be-ousted airport communities fear they will be tossed onto the streets.
At the end of last month, dozens of houses near Phnom Penh International Airport began to be marked for demolition and partial destruction to make way for a “buffer zone”, which authorities say is needed to bring the site in line with international standards.
Now, next to the red spray-painted markings, slips of paper are pinned to walls noting, among other things, whether buildings are houses or businesses and the names of trees growing on the land.
Tem Sareivouth, general manager at Green Goal, told the Post that the project his company is undertaking will ensure adequate compensation for the residents.
“It’s involuntary resettlement, it’s not eviction,” he said. “Right now, we’re just completing a census . . . which will help to make sure they have full entitlement for their loss.”
But, he said, many are still concerned by their presence.
“People still do not believe in this process . . . but if they have complaints, they can file them after we have finished,” he said.
Hundreds of families in four communities surrounding the airport will either have their homes completely destroyed or partially demolished.
In Sokchea, whose plot of land in Prey Chisak stands to be cut back by five metres, according to the red markings sprayed onto the wall of his rear garden two weeks ago, said he is worried he will not be fairly compensated.
While his own home will avoid total destruction, his daughter’s house, which is located in a separate building at the back of the property, will be razed.
“We are worried we will become the next Boeung Kak or Borei Keila,” he said.
Just minutes down the road, houses that are just 6 to 7 metres wide are also marked to be cut back by 5 metres, a reality that means their demolition.
“It has been agreed that we will just lose the whole thing,” said one of the properties’ owners, 72-year-old Yin Mao. “They have sprayed my house, but I don’t know where I have to go,” he said.
According to villagers, Mao’s is one of 100 homes in Prey Chisak that will be completely erased by the expansion. Another 32 homes will lose 5 metres.
Elsewhere, in Thma Kul village, 182 families will see 5 metres chopped from their homes. And 61 more in Trapaing Lvea.
But some residents said they had been kept in the dark about the plans.
Phan Khunanry, whose home bears the mark for complete destruction, said that she has only been informed that she will lose some of her property.
“They came to say that they will have to cut part of my house down . . . It seems some years ago now. It has been quiet until now.”
In July 2012, scores of families were told their homes would be demolished to make way for the “buffer zone”. In protest of the forced evictions, some of the affected families welcomed US President Barack Obama to Cambodia by painting “SOS” on their roofs.
This time around, residents say they fear the demolition – which they have been told will happen this year – is just the beginning.
While residents maintain they live on the land legally, City Hall says they have built their houses outside the law. As part of their negotiations, residents are demanding that they receive land titles that ensure this will not happen again in the future.
But many believe that despite their best efforts, the writing is on the wall.
“I just don’t know what to do,” Yom said.