As the eviction from Dey Krahorm village in Phnom Penh’s Tonle Bassac commune enters what appears to be its final phase, the less than 200 families that remain now live amongst demolished properties, corrugated fencing and razor wire. But life couldn’t be more different for many former residents of Dey Krahorm-which once had an estimated population of 1,400-who have packed up and moved to the Borei Santepheap II relocation site in Dangkao district.
About 20 minutes drive beyond Phnom Penh International Airport, Borei Santepheap II is a new development built by 7NG-the company looking to develop Dey Krahorm once it is cleared of all inhabitants.
7NG offered Dey Krahorm residents a choice of a once-off cash payment, reportedly in the range of $2,000 to $6,000, or a small house at Borei Santepheap in return for leaving their city center land.
During a visit to Borei Santepheap on Thursday, feedback from those already living there was mostly positive.
With paved streets, electricity, running water, a sewage system, a new market, a health clinic and a large garment factory nearby, conditions at Borei Santepheap are a far cry from earlier eviction relocation sites in Phnom Penh.
Around 2,000 families were evicted from the Tonle Bassac area last year and ended up being dumped in a largely empty field in Dangkao’s Andong and Trapaing Anchanh villages, where conditions were little short of appalling.
Jewelry seller Yun Beat said Thursday that he moved to Borei Santepheap II from Dey Krahorm in February.
“I am happy to live here,” said the 41-year-old, who swapped an 8 by 10 meter plot in Dey Krahorm for a 4 by 12 meter plot here, plus a stall in the market that he gets rent-free for the first two years.
Yun Beat had ownership documents for his previous home but was content to move out of Dey Krahorm nonetheless, he said.
“Dey Krahorm was better for business but it’s better here in other ways,” he said.
Of his previous neighbors in Dey Krahorm he said: “They should move out here.”
“We lived in fear of gangs and fire breaking out in Dey Krahorm,” said Chao Sokhon, 34, who relocated in July last year. “It was dangerous, noisy and overcrowded,” he said of his old home.
“There is a lot more space here and it is safer for the children to play in,” Chao Sokhon added. “There is a better future here.”
Khieu Sokhang had lived in Dey Krahorm for 20 years before moving to his new house here in Dangkao. She said those remaining in Dey Krahorm should come and see the situation.
“Maybe if they came and saw with their own eyes they would like it,” she said.
But Ty Sovann, 35, who remains in Dey Krahorm, is adamant he will never take the trip to Dangkao.
“I would rather take money than move to that faraway place,” he said.
Dey Krahorm community representative Touch Ratha also admitted she had never visited the relocation site.
“I do not want to see that place because I do not want to move from here,” she said.
Ly Visoth, 33, who works as a security guard in Phnom Penh, moved to Borei Santepheap II last year. He decided to move, he said, despite the extra commute to his job in the city, because the neighborhood in Dey Krahorm had gone downhill.
Ly Visoth complained, however, about the price of electricity and water at Borei Santepheap and claimed that former village chiefs from Dey Krahorm had abused their positions to get extra houses in the new settlement.
But in the end, he too, has few regrets.
“I lived in fear in Dey Krahorm and the situation is a lot better now,” he said.
Chhay Soreoun, 40, said she has settled well into her new neighborhood.
Her husband, who worked as a motorcycle taxi driver in Phnom Penh, has found the move expensive, but Chhay Soreoun has been able to supplement their small income by selling cookies at the nearby garment factory.
“I am happy to have a proper house,” Chhay Soreoun added.
Nearby, Meas Sarun, 60, is putting a $20,000 extension onto the top of the house he says he moved into from Dey Krahorm last year.
A trader at O’Russei market, Meas Sarun said he had lived in Dey Krahorm for the previous five years.
7NG sales executive Nhem Vanny said there will be a total of 2,000 houses built on the 30-hectare site in Borei Santepheap and 1,500 of them had been set aside for residents of Dey Krahorm.
He estimated that 90 percent of the Dey Krahorm community had either moved already or taken cash settlements.
David Pred, country director for the housing rights NGO Bridges Across Borders, said he could not comment on conditions at Borei Santepheap II as he had not yet visited the site, but he described other relocation sites he had seen as “human dumping grounds.”
“It’s not a question of whether the [relocation] site is nice or not, but the means of coercion and fraud that has been used to get people to move, or accept insufficient compensation,” Pred said.
The 3.7-hectare piece of city center land on which Dey Krahorm is situated is estimated by Bonna Realty to be worth around $44 million.
Drew McDowell, program manager for the community development NGO Village Earth, said the compensation being offered to the Dey Krahorm residents is above most other relocation sites he was aware of.
“But onsite relocation would be the model to strive for in the future,” McDowell said, referring to the concept of providing housing for evicted residents at their original residence site.
“The community should be more involved in the relocation options, which was not the case here and may have aggravated the situation,” he said of Dey Krahorm.
Naly Pilorge, director of local rights group Licadho, said that representatives from her organization had not visited the Dey Krahorm relocation site in the past nine months.
“Our point is that the people of Dey Krahorm should not be forced to relocate,” she said.
Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun said the alternatives offered those evicted from Dey Krahorm were good.
“It is better because the 7NG company paid attention to the bad experiences of previous evictions where they only received plots of land,” he said.
Nhem Vanny said he thought the Dey Krahorm residents who have refused to resettle were hanging on because they felt they might get a better deal from his company by doing so.
“The price of the land there is going up,” Nhem Vanny said.
“But this is the deal we have had with the community there since 2005 and we feel it is a good one,” he said.