The municipality of Phnom Penh has not always kept its promises to displaced squatters, according to a document drawn up by representatives of the municipality, the UN and local NGOs in August.
The document details guidelines for humane relocation of squatter villages that must be moved. But one such community’s situation shows the guidelines are being ignored.
Squatters living on Street 271, Chamkar Mon district, who were scheduled to leave their homes last week to make way for a highway extension, say the city has offered them unsuitable land for relocation, shut them out of the decision-making process and ignored their pleas for flexibility.
Pum Oun, who represents the families, said they were told they would be moved, without their consent, and given just five days’ warning. He said they were not consulted, or even informed about government discussions, and that the relocation sites proposed by the city lack basic infrastructure and services.
According to the guidelines drawn up in August, relocation should always be voluntary. The affected people should know at least six months in advance of the move; they should be involved with the relocation process, including site selection; they should have access to the relevant information as the process continues.
The guidelines state the relocation site should have amenities such as clean water and toilets and employment opportunities, health care and education should be accessible. Housing construction loans should be available to the poorer households.
The guidelines are not law or even a contract. But the municipality, represented by Vice-Governor Chev Kim Heng and several district representatives, helped draft them. And the workshop’s mandate was to draw up a people-friendly set of guidelines which the municipality and its funding partners would follow in the future.
In this case, the city appears to be violating the guidelines. According to Pum Oun, the land the municipality offered them is on low ground that floods easily, it isn’t safe and it is too far—15 to 25 km—from the families’ current homes to enable them to maintain their livelihoods.
Instead of homebuilding loans, the government has offered the squatters 50 kg of rice and a tent, which Pum Oun says they are too proud to accept. The families have raised $11,660 to buy themselves a patch of land they consider more livable, but they still need $6,020 to purchase it.
Mann Chhoeun, municipal cabinet chief, commended the squatters for raising their own money. He said the municipality gave them a fair choice: take the city’s relocation site, or raise money to relocate themselves.
But the municipality could not give them financial help, he said, because the allotted land was donated by the road construction company, not purchased by the city.
“The municipality is very happy if each family can provide for themselves by buying the land,” Mann Chhoeun said. “If the people don’t like [the municipality’s relocation site], it’s no problem, they can buy for themselves.”
Repeated appeals to help the families have been made to Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara by the UN Development Project and the UN Center for Human Settlements.
Improper relocation can have dire consequences. After a May fire in Bassac district, 500 to 600 families were forced out their homes. The city gave them land near Pochentong airport, but it was so far away from their jobs, schools and roots that travel costs ate up many families’ entire earnings. Half the families have now left that relocation area.