Our team went to Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, a city of great disparity. While part of the city is filled with upscale hotels and modern government buildings, the view changes drastically just on the other side of town. This area is comprised of over-crowded slums with too many people just struggling to survive. They live on swamp-like land in small tin shacks. These communities display the extreme poverty that exists, and it is a sight that the Cambodian government wants to hide.
Local authorities have been relocating these families, without any option or much notice, to outlying areas of the city so that luxury apartments can be built for businessmen and other affluent members of society. The problem this presents goes beyond stripping these families of their homes and communities. The relocation areas are so far out of town that these individuals find it difficult to maintain their jobs or to access any sort of government services, such as health care and proper schooling for their children. The only thing this accomplishes is to push the poor out of sight and hope they will be out of mind.
The slum we visited had been warned that any day they could be relocated to one of these outlying areas. Our team spent time meeting some of the families who lived in this area and who faced an uncertaint future. One family who lived in a small tin house was surviving off the income of the two oldest daughters who worked in the flower market. Their mother was dead and their father lost his leg in an army injury. We believe he also suffered from HIV and, therefore, needs to be close to a hospital where he can receive treatment. If this family is forced to relocate, the young women would lose their jobs and the younger children would no longer be able to attend school. The father would also not be able to keep up with his needed medications without access to the hospital. The fate of this family lies between trying to keep what little they have and losing it all. This also means they have no hope of creating a better life in the future since the next generation, the children, are losing their chance for an education.
Unfortunately, this has been the story of too many Cambodians for too many years now. People are continuing to have their homes taken from them and forced to live somewhere they are not prepared for. It too closely resembles the state of Cambodia decades ago when many were forced to leave the homes and jobs they knew and expected to make do in a foreign environment with no support. Of course the poor have the smallest voice in any society, and for that reason their story must be told. This article from 2006 is an indication how many years this has been going on and the thousands of people affected by forced evictions.