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Cham Fishing Community Ordered to Leave Their Riverside Dwellings


Two Cambodia's Cham Muslim women ride a motorbike with their belongings after Phnom Penh authorities asked them to leave their riverside dwellings in Chroy Changva commune, Phnom Penh city, Cambodia, on Nov. 30, 2019. (Tum Malis/VOA Khmer)

Ahead of the 2020 Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Phnom Penh next year, the government ordered members of a Cham fishing community, who live along the Chroy Changvar peninsula, to move from there, citing beautification and public order concerns.

The government issued a notification on November 21, 2019 and gave members of the religious minority community – around 78 families – one week to leave the area. The 2020 Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) will be held at the Sokha Hotel on the peninsula, in Phnom Penh.

Chroy Changvar District Governor Khlaing Hout told VOA Khmer on Monday that authorities could not allow the fishing community to continue to live there, but did not say whether they will be given another location to live.

“Yes, more and more of them have come to live here,” he said. “So, now it has become a problem. I have to ask them to leave.”

Many from the Muslim fishing community have lived on the riverbank for years, fished the waters of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers, and have never owned land.

Representatives for the fishing community said they would move, but they needed more time and requested the government to give them alternate locations to move to. They were also concerned about having to relocate their children to new schools.

As of last weekend, many of the villagers had moved from the riverbank along the peninsula, but some were still holding out hoping for a resolution to the issue.

Y You, a community representative, was still living along the river last Saturday and asked the government for two months to find an alternative site to live, but had his request turned down.

Y You, a 60 year-old representative of Khmer-Islam community, sits with his wife in front of his small house along the Chroy Changvar peninsular in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Nov. 30, 2019. (Tum Malis/VOA Khmer)
Y You, a 60 year-old representative of Khmer-Islam community, sits with his wife in front of his small house along the Chroy Changvar peninsular in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Nov. 30, 2019. (Tum Malis/VOA Khmer)

“For seven days, I have been asking to rent land but there is nothing. It is all belong to tycoons or an excellency,” Y You said, referring to wealthy individuals.

He added that it was already getting hard to make money from fishing and that the riverside residents were worried about finding new schools for their children.

“I don’t know where to go now,” said the 60-year-old fisherman, who had lived at that site for ten years. “I can’t even cry or scream. It is the [government’s] policy.”

So Stafa, a Cham remorque driver, said he had been unable to find any alternative places to live and would probably sleep in his vehicle.

“I don’t know what to do,” he said.

“But I am moving my belonging to my mother-in-law’s boat and I will sleep in my remorque.”

Rights group have pointed out that since the government had allowed the community to live at that location for many years, the authorities had a responsibility to help with relocation and to provide other resources.

“We cannot blame the [community] completely because it is the authorities who allowed them to build the houses there,” said Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager at rights group Licadho.

Recently, around 4,000 families, belonging to the Cham and ethnic Vietnamese communities, were given around 40 hectares in Kampong Chhnang province after they were also asked to stop living in floating houses on the Tonle Sap.

Soeung Sen Karuna, human rights staffer with Adhoc, said the government could find a similar solution for the 78 Cham families. He said it would have been prudent to have a policy to deal with such evictions before releasing the notification.

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