After Evictions,  Unemployment And Debt Soar

More than 32,000 people in Phnom Penh are facing the threat of eviction, while those who have already been relocated must navigate a slew of knock-on effects in­cluding soaring unemployment, high school dropout rates, hun­ger and health problems, and ex­ceptional levels of indebtedness, according to a draft report re­leased by the Housing Rights Task Force (HRTF) on Friday.

“Threatened communities al­ways face insecurity and uncertainty regarding forced eviction, which affects negatively their health…[and] education of their children,” the report states.

“[C]ommunities have been re­located to places where basic services are generally not available, leading to increases in debt to buy essential assets, which to­gether with other factors contri­butes negatively to income, health problems, education and adequate housing,” it added.

Figures cited in the report show that 35.7 percent of those who have been relocated are now unemployed, compared with 18.4 percent before they were moved.

Well over two-thirds of households in relocated communities carry debts of more than $869.

Three quarters of those living in communities threatened with eviction and two-thirds of those in relocated communities have either been injured or have fallen ill in the three months prior to the HRTF report being completed in October. However, the report does not state how the villagers were injured or what illnesses they contracted. The report also says that more than half those who have been relocated or threatened with eviction suffer from a lack of food.

Sia Phearum, executive director of HRTF, said Friday the report was not intended to be critical but to provide the government with much-needed information on what problems arise from evictions.

“Local organizations don’t have a document like this, so now we can use it to show the government and to advocate for the people,” he said. “The government is trying to improve, yes, but there are still problems.”

The draft report-titled Socio Economic Impact of Forced Eviction at the Household Level in Phnom Penh-will be updated in the coming weeks based on feedback solicited from various ministries and nongovernmental organizations. The report’s data, however, is presented in its final form.

Researchers from the Advance Research Consultant Team surveyed 195 threatened and relocated families across Phnom Penh for the report using methods similar to those employed by the UNDP in its recent HIV/AIDS impact study, said team leader Kem Ley.

“It’s a small sample size, but it’s quite reliable,” explained Mr. Ley.

The study on eviction and relocation highlights the paradox of a country that has been making strides in reducing poverty overall, even as it prizes a system of land development that has in some cases only served to amplify impoverishment.

“Cambodia has made significant progress in reducing the poverty rate… infrastructure development in urban areas, and beautification…In contrast, incidence and prevalence of forced eviction has increased,” the report notes.

“The challenges the country faces from forced eviction-ranging from a decrease in productivity, children school attendance, income… to increased mental health problems-are not insurmountable but require a deep and concerted effort to stop forced eviction and increase household level support,” it continues.

A Khmer version of the report is being finalized and will be sent next week to Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Council of Ministers, Phnom Penh City Hall, as well as a number of ministries and provincial authorities, said Mr. Phearum.

Kep Chuktema, Phnom Penh governor, and Keut Chhe, deputy administration chief for Phnom Penh municipality, both declined to comment on the report.

For years City Hall authorities have been involved in the evictions of thousands of families in Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake area, which at times have turned violent. Many Boeng Kak residents say they were given unfair compensation and only a small number of the families were given titles to their land after resisting eviction.

The report is one of the first of its kind that has aimed to attach quantitative data to a situation that has been evaluated only qualitatively. But despite the HRTF’s hope that the findings would be used to influence government policy on eviction, others believe the problems linked to evictions will likely grow worse.

“The complicity of many government and security officials in these evictions reveals the truly rights-abusing nature of this current government,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch. “When will Cambodia’s donors stand up and demand action to end these abuses?”

(Additional reporting Cheng Sokhorng)


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