Phnom Penh plans to transplant 100 squatter families to a Sihanoukville plantation in the first phase of an effort to rid parts of the city of squatters, a municipal official said Thursday.
In three years, the city hopes to move 4,000 squatter families out of the Tonle Bassac area, First Deputy Governor Chea Sophara said.
The 100 families have volunteered to relocate to businessman Mong Rethty’s 3,577-hectare palm oil plantation near the border with Koh Kong province starting Jan 1. Each family will receive a house, 2 hectares of land and a job. The families also will get food for the first three months, Chea Sophara said.
“We’re very happy about the first step of the relocation project,” Chea Sophara said.
The Bassac community has been targeted because it houses almost half of the city’s squatter population, Chea Sophara said. The Phnom Penh government hopes to use the area for a public park and roads, the city’s leader said.
The relocation project will be the first such where the municipality and a private company have worked together, project partners said. Mong Rethy’s company proposed the plan to the municipality in September as a way of finding workers for his new plantation.
Public and private sector partners have built 100 houses for families and developed infrastructure on the Sihanoukville plantation. The partners have taken squatters to visit the plantation and shown them what is offered.
The squatter community and NGOs working for relocation issues welcomed the proposal.
“Apparently there’s no indication that the families are forced to move to the plantation without knowing the advantages and disadvantages,” said Michael Slingsby, director of the UN Center for Human Resettlement. “This project is a good dialogue between the municipality and the private sector to work together to solve the [squatter] problems.”
However, many doubt the municipality can move all 4,000 families from the Bassac area within three years. Even Chea Sophara admitted it would be difficult to complete, given the city’s limited funds.
Mong Reththy said the company plans to hire 500 families from the Bassac community to build a school and clinic in the near future if funds are available.
Critics said the project is more of a cosmetic solution that ignores the root problem.
“The municipality is currently dealing with the effect, not the cause,” said Lim Phai, director of the Urban Sector Group. “The municipality and national government should establish a [national] authority….The problems will never be solved unless the authority really looks at the issues at a national level.”