Cambodian authorities evict HIV-affected famili
June 19, 2009, 11:14 am TWN
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Cambodian authorities on Thursday evicted 20 families afflicted with HIV from their homes in the capital, forcing them to move to a tiny settlement on its outskirts in an action critics called discriminatory.
The evictions from the Borei Keila community came after several months of strong protests by the families, who complained that they would be without basic services, have no means of income and lose access to medical treatment at the new location.
Human rights groups charged that the evictions amounted to segregation. Amnesty International said the housing at the new site at Tuol Sambo, 12 miles (20 kilometers) from Phnom Penh, is made from distinct green metal sheets, and local residents call it the "AIDS Village."
"It is tragic that the government has chosen to create a permanent AIDS colony where people will face great stigma and discrimination," Naly Pilorge, director of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, said in a statement.
She said the relocation site lacks clean drinking water, electricity and proper medical services.
Officials say they evicted the families because they had illegally settled on state land where the government now wants to build new offices for the Ministry of Tourism.
The evictions were carried out Thursday without force after a week of negotiations. About 50 police stood guard, helping the families to collect their belongings.
Sok Srey Nath, 45, said she and her husband and 10-year-old twin sons are all HIV-positive, and decided to move to the new location because they were not in a position to battle the authorities.
"I have no choice, if I don't leave I would lose my property and the offer of new land from the authorities," said the mother of five. "I really don't want to leave my current house because this location is near the market, easy for me and my family to earn money and close to the health center."
The plot of land given her family at the new location is 11 feet (3.5 meters) by 15 feet (4.5 meters), she said.
Residents not infected with HIV have also been evicted from Borei Keila, but some have been resettled in apartments. The 20 families evicted Thursday were not given that option.
Amnesty International said the families would lose their livelihoods because most have been working as scavengers or porters in the city.
The London-based group said an estimated 23,000 Cambodians, most living in poverty, were evicted from their homes last year, and another 150,000 are at risk of being forcibly evicted due to land disputes, land-grabbing and commercial development projects.
Human rights groups have described the evictions are a major social problem that could hurt the Southeast Asian country's stability.
According to a U.N. estimate last year, some 75,000 Cambodians are living with HIV, down from 120,000 in 2002, and the disease's prevalence among adults has fallen in the same period from 1.4 percent to 0.8 percent. The rate is still among the highest in South and Southeast Asia, surpassed only by neighboring Thailand with an estimated 1.4 percent.