With Filling Under Way, Flight From Boeng Kak Lake Begins

On Friday, 47-year-old motorcycle-taxi driver Heng Sam Ang became the very first resident of Boeng Kak lake to relocate his family to Phnom Penh’s Dangkao district. By Monday, 11 other Boeng Kak households had joined Heng Sam Ang’s family.

“I moved because I don’t feel like I had any other choice,” Heng Sam Ang said Monday.

“Some people who have rich relatives who can give them a place to live or someone who works in the government, maybe they can afford to fight. I have no allies,” he said of his decision to relocate.

On Aug 26, HSC Co Ltd began pumping a sand-and-water mix from the Tonle Sap river to fill in Boeng Kak lake as part of a 99-year lease agreement the municipality signed last year with little-known developer Shukaku Inc.

Three days later, Heng Sam Ang left Boeng Kak’s Village Four for housing provided by Shukaku in Choam Chao commune, which is about 20 km from the city center. The 4-by-8 meter flats were originally built by the 7NG company as part of another development deal for evicted families from Phnom Penh’s Dey Krahorm village.

The houses—plus $500 in cash—are one of the three options provided to the estimated 4,250 families facing eviction because of the filling of the lake.

The government and the developer are also offering a once-off payment of $8,500 in cash to people who simply move out. Another option will be housing near Boeng Kak, to be made available once the area is redeveloped.

So far, about 700 of the 4,000-plus families have agreed to accept some form of compensation, Muni­cipal Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun said Tuesday, though he could not specify how many would be moving to new housing in Dangkao district.

For the dozen former Boeng Kak families at Dangkao district now, their new home is down a dusty stretch of National Road 3, adjacent to a garment factory. It’s a sparsely populated housing development of single-room flats.

Each concrete home has an outhouse attached in the back and a metal gate that slides across the front.

Heng Sam Ang agreed Aug 25 to move from his floating, wood-and-tin house on Boeng Kak lake where he had been living since 2004. He and his wife, Koet Arun, rented a flatbed truck to move their belongings Friday and since then have been working to get their utilities turned on. In the meantime, Heng Sam Ang has been filling a plastic jug at the Trapang Sala pagoda, he said.

The family has a house permit from 7NG, Heng Sam Ang said Mon­day, but he is worried because he hasn’t gotten an ownership title from the city.

He’s also concerned about how he’ll make money to support his family. Father to three young children, Heng Sam Ang now makes about $5 a day as a motorcycle taxi driver working turf near the Phnom Penh railway station, but now the hourlong round trip to and from work will use about 1 liter of gasoline. The couple are also anxious about the education of their oldest daughter, 10-year-old Heng Vutey.

Dan Nicholson, of the NGO Center on Housing Rights and Evictions, said the relocation site was better than others.

“But there are still some concerns we have, and I suppose the main one is that this place is 20 km away, a long way from people’s jobs and livelihoods…and a long distance from schooling and health care facilities,” he said.

“This is still not adequate relocation housing as international law defines it.”

But for Heng Sam Ang, his decision to move was based on political reality.

“I left because I had no choice…. The developer wants the land, and the local authority will side with them. Meetings after meetings just means more time that I’m not making money. I need to keep living.”

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