Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Railway families face uncertain future amid relocation deadlock

Residents from Village 17, Tuol Kork district try to meet Phnom Penh governor Khuong Sreng to find a solution to their pending eviction, September 27, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan
Residents from Village 17, Tuol Kork district try to meet Phnom Penh governor Khuong Sreng to find a solution to their pending eviction, September 27, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

Thirty families living alongside a Phnom Penh railroad are still calling on municipal authorities to allow them to keep living in the capital after being forced to relocate outside of the city.

On Monday, fifteen people representing half of the affected families gathered in front of Phnom Penh City Hall asking for governor Khuong Sreng to intervene, saying they will not leave the capital.

Kov Sarun, a resident in Village 17 whose house has been significantly affected by a new road being built alongside the tracks, said that the families have asked for land in Russei Keo​ district where most of the railway community families who have been evicted have already relocated.

“We will not move out of Phnom Penh, it is far from the city, there is not enough infrastructure, there is no clean water — so how can we survive?” he said. “We cannot go and live there. If we go it is like we are starting a new life, and this word [starting a new life] is used only for the Pol Pot era.”

Sarun said that although members of the community have asked to meet with the governor on multiple occasions, they were always turned away due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The affected families are being required to relocate to Kandal province, about 20 kilometers from Phnom Penh.

He said only three villagers were allowed to meet with a City Hall official on Monday. The official asked community members to bring the matter to the Tuol Kork district governor on Friday this week.

Phnom Penh authorities are developing a 12-meter concrete road and drainage system alongside the railway, affecting dozens of families living alongside the track stretching from Tuol Kork district to Daun Penh and Russei Keo. Only families from Tuol Kork have yet to receive a resolution to the dispute.

A letter from the Tuol Kork district office dated August 12, 2020, gave affected families one month to leave. Despite this, the eviction is still pending as authorities fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

53-year-old widow and mother of three Chhouk Ratana, who is living in Village 16, has been living here since 1990. She said her house has been massively affected by the expanded road along the railroad tracks.

“I have only two meters of land left after a strip between the railway and my home is cut for the road, so I and other households who are completely affected are required to relocate outside the city,” she said. “We already told the authorities that we will not go to the new location in Kandal province. There is no clean water.”

A girl walks along a railway in Village 17, Tuol Kork district in Phnom Penh, where the local community is facing eviction, September 27, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

Sarun told CamboJA that people whose houses have been partially affected by the roadworks have already received land titles to their existing properties, but the families whose properties have been wholly affected have not yet received any new notice. He said that some families are demanding compensation in cash instead.

Taing Leang Kry​, the City Hall official in charge of solving land disputes in Phnom Penh who met with people on Monday, declined to comment, referring questions to the municipal spokesman. City Hall spokesman Meth Measpheakdey could not be reached for comment.

More than 50 communities and a total of more than 40,000 people have been evicted from Phnom Penh since the 1980s, often without proper compensation, according to land rights group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT).

“Indebtedness, loss of livelihood, physical harm and lack of access to healthcare and education services are just some of the abuses which families have had to endure in their fight,” STT said in the 2020 report Eviction and Relocation.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of local rights group Licadho, told CamboJA last month that civil society organizations have called on authorities to prepare proper infrastructure at relocation sites before moving people.

“We have noticed that people don’t want to move to new places where there is no proper infrastructure such as roads, clean water, electricity, especially toilets,” he said. “When they see enough infrastructure, they will go, but if they are left without infrastructures, this is why they do not want to go.”