Land grabbing, the process of private corporations buying up Cambodia’s land from a notoriously corrupt government, is quickly becoming one of the country’s most controversial issues. Since the 1990’s roughly two million hectares of the nation’s public lands have been sold to private developers to the point where it is estimated that 1% of the population owns roughly 30% of the land. The government justifies this in different ways, most commonly saying that this is a necessary step for the development of the economically poor country, though the widening disparity of wealth indicates that this development is only benefiting Cambodia’s elite.
Borei Keila, a once heavily populated residential neighbourhood in the heart of Phnom Penh, is a microcosm of this issue and demonstrates the devastating impact Cambodia’s land grabbing is having on its citizens. When the Phan Imex company bought the development rights to the area, the hundreds of families living in Borei Keila were evicted from their homes without warning. Residents estimate that around 500 police and military personnel arrived on January 3rd, 2012, to enforce the eviction.
Despite legally owning the land they lived on, they were powerless to stop the evictions and were left with very few choices. Some residents chose to remain in Borei Keila, living in the semi-destroyed shell of their apartment buildings despite the fact that necessary services like power and running water have been shut off. Others accepted meager compensation packages from Phan Imex and were moved to one of several relocation zones outside the city limits, places devoid of infrastructure and opportunity.
These images were shot over a one month period in Borei Keila, and the Phnom Bat and Toul Som Bo relocations sites outside Phnom Penh.
One of the remaining Borei Keila buildings is reflected in a pool of water resting in the rubble of an already demolished building. The apartments were designed by Vann Molivan, one of Cambodia’s most famous architects, and many feel that they should be preserved.
A 15-year-old boy holds a photo of himself from when he was beaten by police during the forced evictions on January 3rd, 2012. When he attempted to retrive some items from his familys house before it was demolished, an officer crcked his skull with the putt of a pistol. Residents estimate that more than 500 security personnel took part in the evictions.
A man walks up the outer stairs of one of the still-standing Borei Keila buildings past a spray painted message that reads “no pissing”. The metal hand railings were removed from the stairs and hallways by the development company, Phan Imex, in an attempt to make the building less habitable – and therfore encourage people to accept the company deal and leave.
Srey Pov, 57, sits in front of her neighbour of 15 years vacated unit. Srey Pov has lived in Borei Keila for 34 years and refuses to leave with her 12 family members. The “OK” painted on the wall indicates that the occupant has either accepted Phan Imex’s compensation package or left of their own volition.
A vacted unit in one in Borei Keila with a view of one of the other remaining inhabited buildings. Once a resident has accepted Phan Imex’s compensation package, the cmopany destroys the interior of the unit to make them uninhabitable.
Chei Borei, 22, sits in his flooded ground level unit in Borei Keila. He shares the space with his two brothers and refuses to leave until he receives adequate compensation from Phan Imex.
Dy Senghai, 45, stands with her daughter -Ouk Srey Pov, 10, in their unit on the third floor of Borei Keila. They have been living in the house since 1985 and the compensation they have been offered is not enough to relocate their family of 6.
Chhem Chetca, 52, eats lunch outside his Borei Keila home. A soldier in the liberation army, he lost his leg to a landmine and is unable to do most physical jobs.
Khan Rany, 49, has been living in Borei Keila since 1983. Since her husband is a police officer she has more bargaining power than most, but even so the compensation being offered by Phan Imex is not enough and she refuses to leave.
Wall graffitti in an abandoned Borei Keila unit.
Homeless scavengers search for recyclables among the abandoned Borei Keila units.
A woman prepares dinner as her daughter sleeps in their Borei Keila unit. They have so far been offerered no compensation by Phan Imex and they have no other place to go.
Children play in Borei Keila.
A man stumbles as he walks through the garbage mounds that have built up outside the Borei Keila buildings. Residents of the neighbouring buildings throw their waste out of their windows and since there is no free disposal service provided by the government or the Phan Imex company, the area has turned into an unsanitary dump.
Phean Samet, 22, is a homeless youth who sleeps under stairwells and with friends around Borei Keila. He is heavily scarred from falling off the top level of the apartment block when the Phan Imex company removed the railings.
A couple sleeps in the apartment building built by the Phan Imex company as a relocation site for Borei Keila residents. Phan Imex pledged to build 12 buildings, yet they have only built 8 and then claimed to be bankrupt. Large sections of the new buildings are fenced off and are being saved for people with government connections rather than being given to evicted residents as they promised.
An elderly woman eats from an empty bowl in the corridor of one the buildings Phan Imex built for the evicted residents. Phan Imex claimed that they went bankrupt and did not in fact build the number of new houses they promised, meaning many Borei Keila residents did not receive a unit. Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
A young boy wades into a polluted lake in the Toul Som Bo reolcation site.
Hov Kokhan, 63, lost his legs to a mortar accident as a soldier in the liberation army that fought the Khmer Rouge. He had been living in Borei Keila since 1979 when his house was leveled with all his posessions inside on January 3rd, 2012. He was relocated to the Toul Som Bo site by the Phanimex company and because his military pension is only $50 a month he is unable to move back to Phnom Penh.
Bun Lon, 81, sits in his house in the Phnom Bat relocation site two hours outside Phnom Penh. Partially deaf and blind, Phani Imex gave him a house, but no cash compensation so his children have to give him the money needed to eat everyday.
A group of men play games during the day at the Phnom Bat relocation site. Located two hours outside Phnom Penh, there are virtually no job opportunities at the relocation site meaning residents have very little to do.
An HIV positive baby in the Phnom Bat relocation site. There is no medical treatment provided by the government or the Phan Imex company, and residents must rely on NGOs for help.
A group of boys search for small fish and shrimp in a pond in the Toul Som Bo relocation site. Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
A boy walks along the exterior wall of the Toul Som Bo relocation site.