Friday, 12 June 2009

District officials stop HIV/AIDS families on way to City Hall

Written by Christopher Shay and Khouth Sophak Chakrya
Friday, 12 June 2009

Members of Borei Keila's HIV community say Prampi Makara district governor prevented them from meeting with municipal officials.

THE residents of the Borei Keila community in which at least one member of every family has HIV/AIDS attempted to protest their looming eviction at the offices of the Phnom Penh Municipality on Thursday, but district officials stopped them before they could reach City Hall and ushered them into a district office instead, residents said.

"We tried to walk outside of our community and go to City Hall to talk with [Phnom Penh Deputy Governor] Mann Chhoeun ... but then a few district officers came to stop us and told us the Prampi Makara district governor needed to discuss something with us," Borei Keila resident Larch Kim Long said.

At the Prampi Makara district office, Soum Sovann, the district governor, told the community that the NGOs had abandoned them, and that the government would help them.

"Do not believe some NGOs. They just want you to demand something from the government," he said.

Sim Seda, chief of development for Prampi Makara district, promised the community that officials would provide, in addition to two tuk-tuks, "50 kilogrammes of mulled rice, soy sauce, fish sauce, 15 litres of water and 100,000 riels (US$24.12) to each family who lives there".

The government called out the names of 23 families who would be forcibly relocated to Tuol Sambo, more than 20 kilometres away from their current site near Olympic Stadium.

Many of the community members said that, as long-term renters, they should be given on-site housing at their current location, which they said is closer to medical care and jobs.

Mann Chhoeun said earlier this week that nine families would receive on-site housing because they were able to provide documentation that they had been living at Borei Keila for at least five years.

Residents said their new houses in Tuol Sambo would not meet their needs.

"We need City Hall to provide bigger houses to us," Tuot Chhay Ran said. "We saw the green houses at Tuol Sambo, and they are smaller than the ones here."

According to a report from Medecins Sans Frontieres, the green, zinc shelters at Tuol Sambo will be 3.5-by-4.8 metres, below the minimum requirement for emergency refugee camps.

Kathleen O'Keefe, a consultant who has been observing the situation in Borei Keila since 2006, said the eviction would put the HIV community at greater medical risk.

"These 32 families are to be banished to a remote location, which is already known by local people as the ‘AIDS village'.... Moreover, they will face squalid and unhealthy conditions at the Tuol Sambo relocation site, and, because of its distance from Phnom Penh, they will be far away from their jobs and vital medical services in the city," she said.

"It's not surprising that some of these people wonder whether the government is sending them to Tuol Sambo so that they will die more quickly," she added.

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