HIV-affected families at the controversial Tuol Sambo relocation site are slated to receive newly built concrete housing to replace the cramped metal dwellings in which they currently live, local authorities and rights group workers announced Friday.
The Phnom Penh Municipality forcibly relocated 20 HIV-affected families to Tuol Sambo, in the capital’s Dangkor district, in June, following their eviction from the Borei Keila community in central Phnom Penh. More than 20 additional Borei Keila families were sent to Tuol Sambo in July.
On Friday, Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun travelled with other members of government to the relocation site, where it was announced that the Caritas Cambodia charity will partner with other local rights groups to build new houses for the families at Tuol Sambo. As part of the visit, government representatives also distributed five sewing machines and a tuk-tuk to Tuol Sambo residents.
Over the past few months, residents and rights groups have condemned the conditions at Tuol Sambo, where the 3.5-metre-by-4.5-metre green metal sheds that house evictees fall below minimum dimensions required by the UN for dwellings at refugee camps.
On Sunday, however, Mann Chhoeun struck a triumphant note as he described the new plans for the community.
“Those who insulted us are regretting their insults now,” he said, adding: “Caritas is a good partner for us, different from other organisations that have insulted us.”
Kim Rattana, the executive director of Caritas Cambodia, confirmed that his organisation would be leading the effort to build 45 new houses and a community centre at Tuol Sambo, aiming to complete the project in six months.
Kathleen O’Keefe, an independent consultant based in Phnom Penh who specialises in HIV/AIDS and land issues, said Sunday that although she welcomed the actions by Caritas and its partners, she worried about the precedent Tuol Sambo might be setting for further interactions between the government and civil society groups.
“It’s very difficult when NGOs come in and pick up the pieces when the government comes in and evicts people.... [NGOs] must find ways to stop the government from doing this stuff in the future,” she said.
Kim Rattana acknowledged this issue but emphasised the humanitarian needs at the site.
“We are not supporting the evictions, but this is an emergency case … so there is an emergency need for support,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHHAY CHANNYDA