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.