The Shay Rebellion | Christopher Shay

Another looming eviction, another chance to get it right

A feral dog ran through the the Group 34 community with a used sanitary napkin hanging from his mouth while being chased by three naked, uncircumsized children.

After a suspicious fire, a poor but stable Phnom Penh community has become a squalid ghetto where fresh trash and the scorched remains of their belongings sit in heaps behind their temporary shelters.

But, the residents worry, their lives could become even worse once they are evicted.

The Group 34 community watched their community burn to the ground a month ago in a blaze that killed a child. Now, the government is not allowing them to rebuild their homes, a sure sign, they say, they will be forcibly evicted soon. Currently, they live in ramshackle shelters made from donated tarpaulins and the charred remains of their old homes. Even the land has transformed. The fire turned the community’s muddy, brown paths jet black.

The police version of fire that places the blame on an irate drug addict doesn’t quite add up, and no one I talked to believes he acted alone. When I asked one community member why they were being forcibly evicted, he told me, “We’re surrounded by rich people,” and refused to elaborate further.

The community in Tomnup Toek, Phnom Penh doesn’t mind moving. None of the villagers I talked to were particularly nostalgic about the place, especially now that 150 of their homes have been destroyed. They just don’t want to live 50 kilometers out of town, which is where the government says they will be moving them.

They told me they were “a community of market vendors and construction workers”. They needed to be in the city for their livelihoods.

“We eat what we work,” one person told me, meaning every dollar they get is immediately spent on food. They have no savings to support their families while they learn to cultivate rice, the main occupation at their relocation site.

So they did something as far as I know no Phnom Penh community has done before: They found an alternative site for the community’s 258 families. The owner is willing to sell the land to the city at a cheap rate.

The Group 34 community representatives wrote letters to the authorities with the proposal, and the government’s response has been a predictable silence.

This, they told me, is a chance for the government to finally get some good press when it comes to forced relocations.

Maybe, just maybe, if people and organizations make enough of a fuss, the government will spend that little extra to buy them an urban plot.

If not, some residents have vowed to fight back when the police come to evict them. People—who feel they have nothing left to lose—going up against armed police could lead to disaster.

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2 Responses

  1. Alex Lopez says:

    I like your coverage of the forced evictions, keep up the good fight!

    But…worste first sentence of a news article…ever…

  2. admin says:

    These last two posts weren’t news articles in the paper, but at least you’re going to remember that sentence.

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