THE latest report on forced evictions from Phnom Penh is unlikely to be the last, as it notes that more than 32,000 residents of 74 communities face the threat of joining the estimated 85,000 people who have been evicted from the capital over the past decade.
The report from the Housing Rights Task Force, released on Friday, calls for a “deep and concerted effort” to stop forced evictions, noting that “many evictees develop distrust in the political system, and suffer from emotional, physical and psychological trauma that are at times so bad that attempted suicides are regular occurrences once eviction orders have been served”.
In addition to demolishing homes, forced evictions destroy social networks, which are especially vital for the urban poor, according to the report, which assesses the economic, employment, education, health, food security and environmental status of communities facing eviction and those who have already been evicted. It is based on research conducted in October.
The unemployment rate nearly doubled for people evicted from the capital, from 16.4 to 35.7 per cent, the report found, citing the distance from workplaces as a major factor. Indebtedness also surged after evictions, with the need for money to purchase healthcare and food being primary drivers of this, the report added.
Evictees face higher rates of hunger, the report said, noting that more than half of those interviewed had “experienced hunger but didn’t eat because … there wasn’t enough food” during the three-month period prior to the survey. It did not state precisely how often those interviewed were hungry, but said they were hungry “several times, every month, every week and every day”. Household incomes fell from an average of US$267 per month prior to eviction to $204 after relocation, the report said.
Even before eviction, communities at risk of relocation experience “insecurity and uncertainty”, which leads to illness, reduces income and increases the likelihood that children will drop out of school or be forced to repeat classes, the report found.
Ek Tha, spokesman for the Council of Ministers and deputy director of its press department, said relocation was a complex issue, and that in many cases people benefited after being shifted from cramped and unhygienic “slums” to new sites outside the city.
“We are helping the people, not hurting them,” he said, adding “when we relocate people, we do not send them to hell”. He said he had personally visited relocation sites and found that people there were enthusiastic about their new homes.