Rights workers say relocation site amenities remain highly inadequate
Chao Sra Em, 33, remembers well the day her house came tumbling to the ground.
A little under two and a half years ago, hundreds of police and military police forcibly destroyed the dwellings of Phnom Penh’s Dey Krahorm community, using tear gas, metal batons, shields, and a powerful water hose in one of the ugliest evictions this city has ever seen.
Two residents and six policemen were hospitalized during the commotion, which started in the early hours on the morning on Jan 24, 2009. Some threw rocks and swiped at police with sticks. Others were seen praying and hurriedly packing their possessions before the walls fell to the ground.
In total, 150 families were evicted that morning, though hundreds had fallen to the same fate previously. Today, all that stands in the community’s place is an uneven football pitch.
“When we were asleep they came in with bulldozers and sprayed gas,” said Ms Sra Em, who visited Phnom Penh yesterday alongside about 100 former residents from Phnom Penh’s Dey Krahorm community. “We suffered and I did not manage to retrieve anything from my home.”
Like thousands more Ms Sra Em had been resisting eviction since 2006, when the municipality handed the 3.6 hectares of city-center land over to a private developer, 7NG. Today, rights groups say, the community is still facing severe hardship after having moved to resettlement sites that offer very little in the way of a livelihood.
The eviction of Phnom Penh’s Dey Krahorm community reentered the spotlight this week after rights groups and former residents filed complaints that an international football tournament was scheduled to be played on the land. Organizers cancelled the tournament on Thursday and have said it will be played instead on Sunday at Old Stadium in Phnom Penh.
7NG has built a relocation site for evictees on the outskirts of Phnom Penh in Dangkao district’s Choam Chao commune. But residents complain that the site, a 20-minute drive west of Phnom Penh International Airport, sits too far from the city jobs they rely on. Others have been relocated in Kandal province in Ponhea Leu district’s Phnom Bay commune.
Rights workers say that both relocation sites are totally inadequate. Though there is now electricity and water at the site in Dangkao district, the lack of local economy has kept hundreds of families extremely poor.
“It’s still a humanitarian disaster,” said David Pred, executive director of Bridges Across Borders Cambodia. “People are struggling day by day to survive there.”
Mr Pred said that many of those given a parcel of land at the resettlement site in Dangkao district had moved back to Phnom Penh due to the lack of job opportunities in the area.
“The area has electricity and water, but the important thing is our living standards. We cannot do business,” said Rath Sophal, a former Dey Krahorm resident who now lives at the relocation site in Dangkao district.
Phnom Bat commune chief Sem Sophal said that since the former Dey Krahorm community moved there in 2009, living standards have failed to improve. He also said that authorities have very little resources to help improve their lot.
“We cannot help them. All the farmland around them already has an owner,” he said.
7NG has said it plans to build a residential and business park at its development site, but so far no construction has commenced.
At the site of their former living space, villagers yesterday handed out the lyrics of songs they used to sing together prior to the eviction.
“When the sky is cloudy I cry. Everything has happened badly in Dey Krahorm. They use all tactics to move the people from their homes. They never think about right or wrong, they only want to win,” read one song entitled “Tears of Dey Krahorm.” “The rich and powerful man, you have much money, cars, and villas. Why do you wish to take land from the poor like us?”