KANDAL PROVINCE - Seven months after they were violently evicted from their Phnom Penh homes and resettled in a sparse makeshift village in Kandal province, former residents of the Borei Keila community say they are anxiously waiting for housing.
“It’s very difficult here,” said Pen Rina, who has been forced to live in a ramshackle cottage here in the Tuol Sambor resettlement site, 20 kilometers outside the capital. “I used to live in Borei Keila and worked in a factory near O’Russey Market, but I have nothing to do now. I've been living here for several months with almost nothing.”
Residents here say the development company Phanimex was supposed to build them houses after they took over their prime real estate in Phnom Penh. But the housing the company built was not enough for everyone, leading to their eviction. Phanimex officials say they have already provided enough housing for legal residents of the land they took over. And municipal authorities say they are unable to help the villagers.
Pen Rina said this has left her in conditions that are worse than her times as a refugee during the war. She asked that authorities find more suitable housing for her and her family soon. “When it rains, my hut is flooded,” she said. “They live in comfortable places, but we live miserably.”
Likewise, those who refused to leave the Borei Keila neighborhood said they are waiting for a proper solution for them. The company should build two more housing blocks as promised, said Chhay Kimhorn is a representative of the residents who stayed.
“What we demand are our housing rights,” she said. “We want the company to respect their contract because I believe they already thought thoroughly before signing up to build 10 blocks.”
Panimex was supposed to build 10 blocks of buildings on a 2-hectare plot of land for Borei Keila residents in return for the right from the government to develop the land. But in 2010 the company built only eight blocks and declared it ran out of funding to build the rest. Still, it was granted the land.
“Now they’ve even asked the City Hall to grant them ownership to the area of land on which they were prepared to build the ninth and tenth buildings,” Chhay Kimhorn said.
Failure to complete the last two blocks of buildings meant between 300 and 400 families were made homeless, according to a report by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. Many of them lost their homes in a violent forced eviction in January, as houses were toppled by bulldozers and residents were roundup up in trucks and deposited at Tuol Sambor and a second site, Phnom Bath, even farther from the city.
Sia Phearum, director of Housing Rights Task Force, an advocacy group, said the government needs to learn to handle such problems, especially in a year where it is chairing Asean. The government should have Phanimex solve the problem soon, he said.
Phanimex owner Suy Siphan told VOA Khmer in brief statement that Borei Keila villagers have already been built the proper number of houses, according to the company’s own survey. Opportunistic villagers brought in their relatives to receive more housing, she said.
Nevertheless, Borei Keila residents brought to Phnom Bath, 50 kilometers from Phnom Penh, insist the authorities find them proper shelter.
“When I think of my home, I tend to cry,” said Touch Sokun, a resettled mother of two. “I just sat down watching it bulldozed at that time. Living in the city was easy. When my children got sick, I could take them to the hospital nearby, but here is difficult to do so.”
In a recent visit to the Phnom Bath site, Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chutema declined to comment on the city’s solution for the evictees, telling VOA Khmer briefly that he would not be able to give housing to all the Borei Keila evictees. “May I ask all brothers and sisters to please understand,” he said.