The Shay Rebellion | Christopher Shay

Borei Keila families evicted to ‘Aids Colony’

THE long-awaited eviction of the HIV positive families from Phnom Penh’s Borei Keila community began Thursday, with twenty families being taken to Toul Sambo, some 20 kilometers outside the capital.

Despite municipal officials claiming residents left voluntarily and will be better off at the new site – which has been roundly 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 all 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 7 Makara district offices, the twenty families were informed they had a matter of hours to pack up and leave. The government 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 gathered everything they owned and placed it 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 Ministry of Tourism 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 life-saving medical services, 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 to house everybody.

“I am not satisfied with the new place. It is too small. It is not big enough for my five family members. As you can imagine, 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, zinc 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 that 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,” 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 the Deputy Governor of Phnom Penh Mann Cheoun on Wednesday that would integrate the HIV affected families into the rest of the Tuol Sambo community.

“But,” he said, “that would require investing in infrastructure… We proposed more time to help the municipality provide proper infrastructure. I don’t think that’s too much to ask,” he said.

So Mara, the Secretary of State at the Ministry of Tourism, however, said that 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.

The director of local rights groups Licadho, Naly Pilorge, said that by relocating the families far from central Phnom Penh, the government needs to take additional responsibility for their well-being.

“Having chosen to conduct this eviction, the government is now solely responsible for ensuring the welfare of these evictees. It must begin by immediately meeting their emergency humanitarian needs at the relocation site, including clean drinking water, adequate food, electricity and proper medical services. As of this morning’s eviction, none of these were available at the site,” she said.

Earlier in the week, Borei Keila residents accused district officials of duping them into agreeing to the move, saying they were promised larger homes at the Tuol Sambo site.

“The authorities of 7 Makara district promised to make two houses one home to make us want to live in Tuol Sambo,” Touch Chhay Ran said on Sunday, “But then the authorities told us ‘small families’ will have only one small room.”

When families arrived at Tuol Sambo, they found that despite government promises, none of the rooms had been expanded.

But Som Sovann, a 7 Makara district official, said the members of most families were too small to warrant a double-sized room anyways and that the district had greatly improved the lives of those in the community.

“First, they were just renters. They owned nothing. This is our charity, our generosity to give them houses,” he said.

Sao Vanna, the representative of the HIV community who was not evicted on Thursday, said, “These families agreed to live in Tuol Sambo, because where they were living before had many problems. They did not have legal titles. Now, they will. This is an improvement.”
Heng Sreyneana said she begged officials for larger homes with water and electricity, but that now she foresees a future where her children will go hungry.

“How can we make money for out children? If my husband cannot make money there, there will be no rice for my children … Tuol Sambo has nothing,” she said.

Both the Governor and Deputy Governor of Phnom Penh were unavailable for comment on Thursday.

co-reported with Chrann Chamroeun

a version of this was published in the Phnom Penh Post

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One Response

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