Thursday, 13 August 2009

Cambodia's "AIDS colony" eyed

A Cambodian government village with over 40 HIV-infected families has come under criticism from human rights groups for discrimination.

Twenty-five km outside of Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh, lies a village built by the government for HIV-infected patients and their families.

Come to be known as the "AIDS colony", in the past two months the government has relocated 47 families to live in its metal and wooden sheds.

With inadequate sanitation and no running water, the area is not a health sanctuary for HIV-infected patients, who require personal attention and care.

The government maintains it is taking care of patients by building new homes and offering healthcare and ownership rights previously unavailable.

But HIV-infected people living in the village say they have not received any official recognition of ownership rights nor government compensation for their old homes.

40-year-old HIV patient Chheang Toma says even with free medical treatment, he has no real means of earning a living in the colony.

40-year-old HIV patient Chheang Toma saying:

"I feel sluggish in my arms and on my legs everyday and I cannot walk well. I will hang on, until the day I need to go to sleep in the hospital. I wanted to go now, but I have no money to spend for food, although they give treatment free of charge."

With little prospect of work in the area due to the distance from the city, people say they must survive largely on donations from the government and NGOs.

41-year-old HIV-infected Suon Davy saying:

"I face great difficulty for my family day to day, because we live far away from the hospital, far from any job opportunities and it is very hot here."

Local human rights activist Dr. Kek Galabru says the government actions are discriminatory while the conditions could pose health risks to already vulnerable patients.

Dr. Kek Galabru, President of Lacadho NGO saying:

"It's regretful that city hall sent 40 families to Tuol Sambo village. This is a discriminatory act because by putting them together like this, everyone will know this is an AIDS community."

The "AIDS colony" is one of a number of forced evictions in Cambodia, where the government has faced escalating criticism about its mandatory relocations.

Many HIV-infected people living in Tuol Sambo previously resided in squatter areas in the Borei Keila area of the capital, forced out as the government took over the land to build high-rise buildings.

Last month, the World Bank urged Cambodia to halt the forced evictions from disputed land, saying it threatened the livelihoods of thousands of urban dwellers.

Puja Bharwani, Reuters.