Despite Promises of New Housing, AIDS Families Remain in Limbo

Living beneath a tarp where her ramshackle house used to stand in Phnom Penh’s Borei Keila community, Soth Thoeurn is no longer waiting for the new home that she says officials had promised her.

“I don’t know where the land is. Now it seems hopeless that we will get any,” the 33-year-old said Sun­day.

Soth Thoeurn’s family is one of the 75 living with HIV-AIDS in the rundown villages of Prampi Mak­ara district’s Borei Keila, whose homes are steadily being dismantled as the development of their com­munity—which began early this month—continues.

Two brand-new, 6-story buildings have been built at Borei Keila, in which 296 families, most of whom owned land in the community, have been handed out apartments. The municipality has said a total of 1,176 families will be given apartments at similar buildings in the future. All homeowners and some renters are being given the free apartments.

Both Soth Thoeurn and Chan Som­bour say they have been renting houses in Borei Keila since 2000. This should make them eligible for a free apartment as well, ac­cord­ing to local rights group Licad­ho. But for the moment, they have been left in limbo.

According to Licadho, there are 166 families renting at Borei Keila who do not know if and when they will receive alternative housing.

“Under the original agreement in 2003 between Borei Keila villagers, the municipality and the Phanimex company, some renters—those who had lived there for at least three years—are also eligible for new apartments,” Licadho director Naly Pilorge said. “But the renters have not yet been told which of them will receive the apartments, and when,” she said.

Khim Chok, community chief at Borei Keila, said renters will be giv­en housing if they had purchased a “community book” to take part in a saving scheme. The community book, for which families pay either daily or monthly fees, serves as a savings account for families, Khim Chok said. Some villagers suffering from AIDS said they were simply too poor to afford the books.

Koeurn Banthy, a 53-year-old AIDS patient, said she has been pay­ing around $0.75 per month for her community book since 2000, but still is not sure whether she will wind up with a new apartment.

Municipal Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun said Sunday that he was unable to speak to a re­porter by telephone.

On March 4, Mann Chhoeun told the 296 families waiting at City Hall to receive new apartments that the government had always cared about its people and that he was eager to raise the standard of living in Borei Keila.

But for now, AIDS sufferers like Chan Sombour, 35, remain camp­ed out in squalid circumstances, uncertain of what the future holds.

Chan Sombour said his health has deteriorated since his house was dismantled last week. “I feel very exhausted in this heat with no water,” he said.



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