New plans to develop Phnom Penh will uproot thousands of poor and squatter families, many of whom will be evicted from their homes over the next two years, according to a UN Habitat report.
The report was compiled from information gathered at district offices around the capital, Tuy Someth of UN Habitat said Wednesday. Information was also compiled from data that Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema requested on squatter families throughout the city and submitted to the municipality on Feb 28.
“In order to implement the government’s principles about developing 100 communities per year to be better, please register the people who live as squatters in gardens, streets and all other public parks,” Kep Chuktema wrote to Prampi Makara district Governor Som Sovann in the directive dated Jan 28.
The order also requested that families be photographed and their locations recorded. Similar letters were sent to the city’s six other district governors.
In total, 4,771 families in Phnom Penh will feel the effects of the municipality’s efforts to improve the city’s roads, railroads, canals, lakes and private land through 2006, according to the UN Habitat report.
Som Sovann said he was not aware of the UN Habitat report but said the municipality is not planning to evict the squatters yet.
“We don’t have plans to evict them now because we don’t have any land to exchange with them,” he said. “We just registered them to be in a group or community.”
Kep Chuktema could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Not all the families listed will be forced to leave their homes, Tuy Someth said, noting that some located next to railways have been asked only to move their homes 20 meters from the tracks.
While the municipality’s desire to remove slums and improve the infrastructure is understandable, he said, officials must treat the people they are moving fairly.
“Looking to clean up is one thing, but the city needs a policy for these people to provide fair and just compensation and recognize their rights,” Tuy Someth said. The report, which was compiled in March, does not include families that have already been moved by the city over the past several months.
UN Habitat and the Housing Rights Taskforce, made up of various NGOs, will be holding a meeting with district and municipal officials on March 12 to discuss the new plan.
Phnom Penh First Deputy Governor Mam Bun Neang also had not seen the UN report but said improving the city’s infrastructure was important for the country’s image.
“We do it for the beauty of our city,” he said. “We don’t want to be ashamed in front of foreigners.”
Mam Bun Neang promised the squatters would be taken care of and downplayed concerns the squatters could be relocated far from the city.
“Being far away is not a problem because we give them legal land titles,” he said. “Sooner or later the city or town will grow out to there anyway.”
Cyril Chin, attorney and adviser for the Public Interest Legal Advocacy Project, an NGO that is working with squatters throughout the city, expressed concern about the large number of people who will be affected.
“We are concerned that these numbers are only the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “Forced eviction and resettlement without fair and just compensation are already happening in Phnom Penh at an alarming rate.”
Chin said the report only emphasizes the need for the city to adopt sound resettlement policies that will help families in the long run.
“Otherwise the city will soon have to deal with all the problems that arise when you have thousands of dislocated and discontented people with nowhere to live and no work to do.”
Adhoc President Thun Saray said relocating thousands of squatter families without a proper plan will only create more poverty.
“When they leave that place, they lose their homes and lose their jobs,” he said.
“Developing the economy is good, but they have to think of the people first.”
Several people interviewed in Prampi Makara communities listed in the report were surprised at the news and said they did not know the city planned to move them within the next two years.
“We are squatters but we have lived here a long, long time,” said Chan Sophany, 48, as she tended her shop where it was built on Street 161 near the Juliana Hotel. “This should not be a road. I just want to live here.”
Sok Yarn, 58, is worried her family would be moved to an area far from their market, school and jobs.
“We only have a little house and if they move us, we won’t have anything left,” she said.