Forced To Live in Limbo

Phnom Penh’s Borei Keila is not a community accustomed to easy living, but the lives of its residents are about to get even harder. The small group of families that remain at the site is currently clustered in two long buildings constructed from corrugated metal.

They were kicked out of their rental homes in this village near Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium in 2007, after the majority of the land-10 hectares-was granted to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. Developer Phanimex was granted 2.6 hectares of the remaining land for development in return for an agreement to build apartments for 1,776 of Borei Keila’s residents.

Since 2007, 47 Borei Keila families-31 of which have at least one member infected with HIV/AIDS-have lived in these green, windowless sheds surrounding by new apartment buildings under construction.

Many of them claim they were promised new flats in the development, but now they’ve heard that they will be evicted at the end of the month and sent to live at a relocation site at Tuol Sambou village in Dangkao district’s Prey Veng commune.

A round-trip motorcycle-taxi ride covering the 20 km between Tuol Sambou and the capital’s costs about 10,000 riel, or $2.50, according to villager Sieng Vy, an HIV/AIDS patient. With the small amount they earn working in the city working as scavengers and dishwashers, her family wouldn’t be able to afford the transportation costs.

“If they force me to live in the relocation site, they force me to die as soon as possible,” Ms Sieng Vy said. “This is a better place for me.”

Ms Sieng Vy said she believes she contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in 1999. Since then, earning money has been an uphill battle for her family.

“When I became sick, my mother became responsible for supporting the family,” Ms Sieng Vy said. “But my mother is getting older.”

When times were really tough, and her mother couldn’t bring in enough cash washing dishes for restaurants, Ms Sieng Vy said she was forced to sell the antiretroviral drugs given to her free of charge through government programs at Phnom Penh hospitals.

That’s not a problem anymore-when her daughter turned 7 fours years ago, she was finally old enough to help support the family as a trash scavenger.

With the money brought in by the little girl, now 11, and her mother’s income, Ms Sieng Vy could afford to keep her antiretroviral drugs. But her disease had advanced quickly in the intervening months; she developed cataracts that went untreated, and she is now completely blind.

Nonetheless, her family is surviving in the green sheds of Borei Keila.

To add variety to their diet, Ms Sieng Vy’s daughter collects overripe fruit and vegetables tossed away by market vendors. Her mother now supplements her income by stitching messenger bags for the NGO Mith Samlanh/Friends, which lends sewing machines to impoverished women to help them make a living.

Life in Borei Keila is difficult, but Ms Sieng Vy said it would be harder in Tuol Sambou. “There is not even one tree at the new place…. We do not even have any small plots for growing vegetables.”

She said she would refuse to leave her home in Borei Keila. “If police or armed forces come, I volunteer to sacrifice my life.”

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