AIDS patient Vinh Thy, 37, can hardly believe that her family will soon move out of the metal shack where they were relocated following eviction from Phnom Penh’s former Borei Keila community more than a year ago.
Ms Thy belongs to one of 42 HIV/AIDS-affected families who have been given new hope in the form of houses built by NGO Caritas Cambodia on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
“I never dreamed of having such a nice concrete house,” Ms Thy said yesterday.
Phnom Penh municipality relocated the 42 families to cramped metal sheds in Dangkao district’s Tuol Sambou village after evicting them in June last year to make way for a garden in front of the new Tourism Ministry building on the Borei Keila site.
The eviction of the families was roundly criticized by human rights and health workers who not pointed out the health dangers of moving such sick people to a site so far from health services and to such inadequate housing.
“At this relocation site I have faced a lot of difficulties reaching medical treatment,” Ms Thy said yesterday, noting that she received a corrugated zinc shack measuring 3.5 by 4.5 meters when she was evicted.
By the end of this month, 45 new homes will be completed by Caritas Cambodia for Ms Thy and the other evictees. The Catholic organization has spent more than $270,000 on the families, Caritas Executive Director Kim Rattana said yesterday.
“We just need a short period of time for interior decoration and to plant trees…. The 42 HIV/AIDS-affected families will get the houses 100 percent free of charge,” Mr Rattana explained, noting that the houses, which have clean running water, were built on land provided by city hall.
When the families move in later this month they will receive temporary ownership certificates from the municipality, which will issue land titles after five years residence, Mr Rattana said.
Local and international human rights groups previously denounced the relocation site as a veritable “AIDS colony” far from medical facilities and employment. Poor sanitary conditions as well as the clustered density and small size of the shacks endangered people living with the immunodeficiency virus who are prone to sickness and infection, rights workers said at the time.
“Nobody calls them an AIDS colony anymore,” Mr Rattana noted yesterday, adding that the HIV/AIDS-affected families will live alongside 39 families who moved into neighboring concrete houses in April. The other families–left homeless in 2008 after their houses collapsed into the river in Russei Keo district–will contribute 10 percent toward the additional $250,000 Caritas Cambodia spent constructing those buildings, Mr Rattana said. The families will pay off their 10 percent contribution on a monthly basis over 18 months.
Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun could not be reached for comment yesterday. However, previously he said “City hall needs NGOs like Caritas Cambodia to help relocate villagers by building houses, not NGOs that just criticize and discourage the government.”
Lun Chanthy, a 39-year-old living with AIDS at Tuol Sambou, said that a proper house was a necessity as the community will continue to face high transportation costs to the health center for treatment while local job opportunities remain scarce.
“Proper accommodation is necessary for everyone, it does not matter if you have HIV/AIDS or not,” Mr Chanthy said.