20 families from Borei Keila are relocated to 'HIV colony'.
THE long-expected eviction of the HIV-positive families from Phnom Penh's Borei Keila community began Thursday, with 20 families taken to Tuol Sambo, some 20 kilometres outside the capital.
Despite municipal officials claiming that residents left voluntarily and will be better off at the new site, which has been condemned by local and international rights groups as being unsuitable for human habitation, residents said they were unhappy with the move.
"We were happy here [in Borei Keila], because it's larger and better for business than Tuol Sambo," said Heng Sreyneang, 30, while packing up her belongings.
Access to medical services is a matter of life and death for many in the community, but in the early hours of Thursday morning in a meeting at Prampi Makara district offices, the families were informed they had a matter of hours to pack up and leave.
The government says it needs the land to plant a garden in front of the Ministry of Tourism building, which is still under construction.
Under the supervision of district authorities, families quickly loaded everything they owned in the back of government-supplied trucks.
Waiting for the families in Tuol Sambo, according to residents, were their new homes and US$275 per family from the Tourism Ministry and City Hall.
But for many, such as Koy Tem, 65, who sent her HIV-positive daughter to the hospital on Thursday morning only to be forced from her home a few hours later, what government is giving them is not enough.
"It is very far from the city, and I am too old," she said.
"We accept the governor's and City Hall's relocation policy, but we just want to say the place is too small."
In addition to its location, which is significantly further from medical care, the housing itself at Toul Sambo is below standard, villagers said.
There are five people in Heng Sreyneang's family, and she says the new space will be too small.
"I am not satisfied with the new place. It is not big enough for my five family members.... Five family members sleeping together - boys and girls - is not good," she said.
Heng Sreyneang's family will share a 4.8-metre-by-3.5-metre room in a green sheet-metal shelter in Tuol Sambo, giving each person less than 3.4 square metres, well below the UN's minimum standards of 4.5 square metres per person for emergency refugee camps.
Christophe Peschoux, the country representative at the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Tuol Sambo "is not appropriate to receive families that have members with HIV".
"What has been prepared so far is a warehouse-type shelter without running water or electricity", he said, adding that the site would create an "HIV colony, where they would be subject to stigma".
Peschoux said that UN submitted an alternative plan to City Hall on Wednesday that would integrate the HIV-affected families into the rest of the Tuol Sambo community.
"But that would require investing in infrastructure. ... We proposed more time to help the municipality provide proper infrastructure," he said.
So Mara, secretary of state at the Ministry of Tourism, said the government had helped the community with all its available resources, and that no matter what the government did, the community would still have demanded more.
"When you ask them they always say, it's not enough. Even if you build a villa for them, it's not enough. It's never enough," he said.
Som Sovann, a Prampi Makara district official, said that the district had greatly improved the lives of those in the community. "First, they were just renters. They owned nothing. This is our generosity to give them houses," he said.