Municipal officials told 23 families living with HIV and AIDS at Phnom Penh’s Borei Keila community that they will be moved perhaps as early as June 15 to a distant new location that doctors and human rights and housing activists say will put their lives at risk.
The human rights organization Amnesty International on June 11 also urged its members to appeal to Cambodian authorities to prevent any eviction or transfer of the HIV and AIDS-affected residents of Borei Keila, who the organization said he had been denied a fair assessment of their right to compensation.
District officials held separate talks on June 12 with two groups among a community of 32 families living with HIV and AIDS, telling nine that their long-term residency at Borei Keila qualified them for apartments built as compensation by the powerful construction company Phanimex.
“The other 23 families are renters who moved into Borei Keila after a 2004 survey. So they have no chance to get buildings in Borei Keila,” said Som Sovann, governor of Prampi Makara district.
Under a 2003 land-sharing agreement, the Borei Keila land once occupied by 1,776 households was to be used by the Education Ministry and partially developed for commercial use by Phanimex, which was to build 10 apartment complexes to house displaced families. The Tourism Ministry will also occupy part of the land.
Hundreds of families have since been evicted, however, as eligibility for apartments has been determined in a process criticized as opaque, poorly managed and sometimes corrupt.
The HIV-affected residents were among 47 families temporarily resettled in 2007 to a metal shed within Borei Keila.
Mr Sovann said June 12 that the relocation site, a plot 20 km from the city center in Dangkao district’s Prey Veng commune called Tuol Sambou, has been connected to supplies of water and electricity.
Families will receive legal title after five years of residency, he said.
However rights workers say that the site’s distance from proper medical care, poor sanitary conditions, the small size and clustered density of the newly built shacks will be a clear danger to people living with immunodeficiency, who are prone to sickness and infection.
An assessment carried out last year by the organization Doctors Without Borders found that the new site failed to meet even minimum requirements for temporary emergency shelter.
Thirty residents in March wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany, who is head of the Cambodia Red Cross, saying that living at the Tuol Sambo location would harm their health.
Vin Thy, a Borei Keila renter preparing to move to Tuol Sambo, said June 12 that she had given up seeking an alternative to the move.
“I’ve been struggling for the right to live in the buildings but authorities cannot offer this to me. I’ve got no choice and am happy to move to the new place because I’ve done a lot of protesting already,” she said.
Kathleen O’Keefe, who has researched and monitored the Borei Keila community since 2006, said June 12 that the families may have taken the city’s offer for fear that any alternative may be worse.
Health Minister Mom Bunheng said June 12 that he could not comment on the relocation process but promised that his ministry would care for the new Tuol Sambo community.
“For people living everywhere, we have our health network to provide care,” he said.
Sharon Wilkinson, country director for the NGO CARE International, said the resettlement location was in no way acceptable.
“You are creating in effect an HIV/AIDS colony,” she said. “A relocation site 20 km outside of town where they will not be able to get appropriate care is putting their lives in danger.”
Deputy Municipal Governor Mann Chhoeun could not be reached on June 12.