NGO officials on Monday strongly criticized the Phnom Penh municipality for not preparing for the huge influx of flood and drought victims who have flowed into the capital recently, saying the city has ignored repeated calls to provide even basic aid for rural migrants.
Thousands of migrants have come from drought-stricken provinces such as Prey Veng, Svay Rieng and Kompong Cham, yet once in Phnom Penh they are often forced through circumstances to live in squatter villagers and sometimes work in the sex industry, said Lim Phai, director of the Urban Sector Group.
“The [migrants] have no adequate housing, and the city is not working to give them anything,” Lim Phai said. “We have organized some workshops with city officials where they hear stories from people coming to the city, but so far there are no substantial programs by the city to provide even basic services.”
Seasonal floods and droughts are the biggest reason for the migration from rural to urban areas, Lim Phai said, adding that urban poverty specialists have been observing this trend for several years.
Samreth Sok Heng, head coordinator for the Urban Resource Center, agreed with Lim Phai. He said people coming to Phnom Penh because of the drought and floods “must live by their own way because the city does not give them any assistance.”
Officials from the Urban Resource Center have urged city officials to provide basic emergency services to the migrants—most recently on July 26—but the city has not replied to any of the requests for assistance, Samreth Sok Heng said on Monday.
Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara acknowledged on Monday that the city is not providing help for the people coming to the city. The governor urged them to stay away from the capital and get assistance from officials in the provinces where they live.
“If the people need food, they should get it from their provincial officials,” the governor said. “We will not encourage them to stay here.”
He said that local officials in Phnom Penh will “re-educate” any migrants they find residing in their communes by explaining that the provincial authorities will provide them with aid.
While no official figures are currently available for the number of people flowing into the capital to look for employment and to escape the droughts and floods, NGO officials estimate it is in the thousands.
For example, Samreth Sok Heng said, approximately 400 families were living on a Tonle Bassac site soon after a fire swept through the squatter village in November 2001. An informal survey of the area by the Urban Resource Center found that more than 1,300 families are currently living there.
He said that while some of those families are former Tonle Bassac residents, many have moved there recently from the provinces.
Lim Phai estimated that there are at least 30,000 people currently living in “informal” Phnom Penh squatter camps, many of whom moved to the city to escape the droughts and floods of recent years.